The Ellsworth City Council voted on February 9th to proceed with the first steps to developing yet another municipal fiber network in Maine. Community leaders plan to develop open access fiber infrastructure. Five ISPs have already expressed an interest in working with the city to provide services via the network.
Ellsworth is home to approximately 7,500 people and is located along the south not far from the central coast.
The Ellsworth American reports that council members decided unanimously to lease a parcel of land on which to place a headend facility. The Ellsworth Business Development Corporation (EBDC), which also obtained a $250,000 grant to expand high-speed Internet in Ellsworth, will lease the property. The grant came from the Northern Border Regional Commission in 2014.
The Council also agreed to commit $28,445 in tax increment financing (TIF) funds toward the project. Those funds will be used for the headend building and to install a two mile stretch of fiber to tap into the community's abundant fiber resources. Community leaders want to create options for local businesses and the numerous home based businesses in Ellsworth.
“You have the superhighway already,” said Andy Hamilton, an attorney with Eaton Peabody who serves as legal counsel to EBDC. “But you need the off-ramp and the local roads to take you to the office buildings.”
Indeed, a report from Portland-based Tilson Technology Management said Ellsworth is located at “an information superhighway crossroads” and that it has a lot of fiber optic infrastructure — “more than most Maine communities.”
The network project is being developed in conjunction with a business incubator project in Ellsworth. Biotech and health science related businesses are abundant in the region and city leaders want to make the city attractive to the industry.
Council members are also considering the long term:
Lili Pew, a real estate agent who heads the EBDC broadband committee, pointed out many people have home-based jobs or businesses. She said the number one question she hears from her clients looking at Ellsworth is, “Do I have access to high-speed broadband?”
Running fiber lines to every residence in Ellsworth would be cost-prohibitive — in the range of $8 million to $12 million, according to Tilson — but there are other ways to reach parts of the city that Pew said are “in the black hole of technology right now.”
“This is more important to have in the city than natural gas, right now,” he said, referring to higher-speed Internet. “This is a utility that is really going to help us get ahead.”