A happy medium

Discussions concerning creation of a local utility to provide ultra high-speed broadband to everyone in Bar Harbor anticipate the project would be done in two phases. One would create a network for all public buildings, such as the town office, police and fire stations, schools, and even water treatment plants and sewer pump stations. That would cost in the vicinity of $2 million.

The second phase would look at making fiber optic cable available everywhere. That could cost as much as $15 million. If private sources of funds cannot be found, supporters suggest taxpayers might be asked to foot the bill.

There may be a happy medium, however, as evidenced by what is happening in other Maine communities. Rockport and Camden are moving ahead, but propose more modest networks. Rockport has spent $75,000 installing 1.2 miles of fiber for broadband in its downtown. Camden has installed an entire downtown wireless system funded primarily by private contributions.

As envisioned, the Bar Harbor municipal system would run down some major roads, such as parts of Route 3 and the Eagle Lake Road. Customers near where that fiber passes theoretically would be able to connect as well. It would be interesting to see how much more it would cost to expand that level of service, at least initially, just in the downtown, in effect creating a broadband enterprise zone. That should help nurture a creative economy in areas already zoned for business, and serve to test whether there is a demand for further build-out. Should the anticipated benefit be realized, expansion of the service to more remote areas, at significantly higher cost, might be justified.

Most folks living in rural areas have consciously accepted the Faustian bargain of living without core services. No town water. No public sewer. Emergency responders take longer to get there. High-speed internet may not be readily available. While the altruistic motives of those desiring to bring broadband service to every single address in the community are to be commended, perhaps a community that can reap 90 percent of the benefits, at 50 percent of the cost, is an option worth exploring.

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