Town gets $1.3M broadband grant

CRANBERRY ISLES — The town has been awarded a $1.32 million federal grant for the fiber network that is being built to provide broadband internet service to everyone in the town who wants it.

The grant requires a local match of $233,000, which is 15 percent of the $1.55 million price tag for the project.

Even so, the town’s taxpayers in future years will have to shell out much less for debt service than would have been the case without the grant.

After being notified of the grant award last Friday, an ecstatic Richard Beal, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, told the Islander, “I’m floating!”

Voters at the 2017 town meeting authorized borrowing up to $1.2 million for the project. And at this year’s town meeting, voters approved borrowing up to $100,000 more to provide the same fiber-to-the-home service to the 26 seasonal homes on Sutton Island that will be available to homes and businesses on Islesford and Great Cranberry Island.

In hopes of reducing the cost to taxpayers, town officials last year submitted several grant applications. One was to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Community Facilities Program for $1.32 million.

In a letter dated March 20, Christopher McLean, acting administrator of the USDA’s Rural Utility Service, informed Malcolm Fernald, who earlier this month completed his term on the Board of Selectmen, that the full amount of the town’s grant request had been approved.

“We look forward to working with you to bring the benefits of advanced telecommunications services to rural America,” McLean wrote.

Last May, the town was awarded a $66,066 grant by ConnectME, the state agency that supports the expansion of broadband access.

Axiom Technologies, which is building the network for the town, early on pledged to contribute up to $195,000 in cash and labor.

Axiom President Mark Ouellette said Monday that the Islesford portion of the network build-out is nearly complete.

“All of the year-round residents who want service have been hooked up, and we’re now in the process of doing the connections to the seasonal homes on Islesford,” he said. “We expect that work to be completed in the next couple of weeks or so.”

Ouellette said work will start soon on Great Cranberry and Sutton Island.

“I’m hoping for an April 15 start on the trunk fiber, the fiber that runs along each of the streets, on Great Cranberry,” he said. “Then we can do all the drops to the individual homes. We’re shooting for June 15 to have all of those done.

“On Sutton Island, we expect to have all the connections done by June 1, probably sooner.”

Ouellette said he had been very impressed by the amount of work town officials and others had put into preparing the federal grant application.

“It was an extremely heavy lift for a small community,” he said.

Beal said that sort of effort and determination is not out of the ordinary.

“The Cranberry Isles have always been a bit forward looking, understanding that even if we are a small community, we can still try to keep it sustainable and do these types of things,” he said. The community has “always tried to size up a problem and then be proactive and go do it.”

Updated on March 28 at 10:03 a.m.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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