BAR HARBOR — The town will spend up to $20,000 to study the feasibility of constructing its own fiber optic network to link town buildings, schools and possibly private businesses and residences to high-speed broadband Internet.
Creating high-speed broadband networks is one of the top goals of the Maine state government, town councilor David Bowden said, and would also make sense here in Bar Harbor. State funds appear to be available to municipalities acting proactively, he said.
“That’s my point of putting this money forward and getting started,” he said. “I would think we need to get on the bandwagon.”
Town councilors Tuesday approved transferring the money out of their contingency fund for the study, making the venture financially neutral as far as budgeting is concerned.
Town offices currently connect to the internet over a fiber optic network owned by Time Warner. As part of a previous franchise agreement, the town does not pay for access to the network. However, the franchise agreement expired nearly a year ago, and some town officials believe Time Warner is stalling in negotiating a new agreement because they want the town to pay for access.
“The guidance that we’ve received from the lawyers helping us … is that the cable company really doesn’t want to give us anything, and may in fact want to start charging us for the fiber network that we get today as part of that franchise agreement,” said Brian Booher. He is a member of the communications technology task force, which has studied the issue of broadband availability in Bar Harbor.
Adding to the town’s potential conflict with Time Warner is the fact that in more and more ways, economic development depends on broadband internet access, he said. And what exists for broadband here today is barely enough as is.
“If the only way to get there is to do it ourselves, that’s the Maine mentality right there. So, my attitude is, let’s look at this and see what it would take.”
The town council has set a goal for improving broadband access, but Booher said that the scope of those improvements remains at question.
The study should shed some light on the potential for fiber optic expansion by presenting costs associated with various potential sizes of the proposed network.