While smaller communities in Maine are laying plans to develop community broadband networks for high-quality Internet access, the state’s third largest city indicated a shift in how they view fiber optic connectivity. At a recent city council meeting, Bangor elected officials passed a resolution declaring, “Fiber and access to the Internet is an essential service in the City of Bangor, Maine.”
When council members passed the measure, they didn’t dedicate any funding toward community broadband or authorize a specific approach, but Councilor Tyler Collins stated, “It just sets a baseline that identifies we are prepared to do more research on this project.”
The city council has heard ideas on fiber optic deployment throughout the community for at least three years and they’re now looking closer at an open access model in which ISPs deliver Internet service to the public. Property owners connected to the infrastructure would pay a utility fee, as they do now for sewer or water, and would also pay an ISP for Internet access.
City Manager Cathy Conlow:
“They’re still able to pick their provider, but it would run over city fiber. It would ensure better coverage over the city, better speeds, consistent speeds and more stable pricing.”
At this point, Conlow describes their status as “exploring.”
Mainers Are Doing It
Over the past year, Maine has been a flurry of community broadband activity. In Baileyville and Calais, the rural towns are joining forces to develop their own dark fiber utility in the hopes of attracting ISPs to serve businesses and residents. Sanford has decided on a way to fund some surprises that slowed its network deployment, and Ellsworth is already serving local businesses.
In each case, local leaders cited economic development as a major factor in their decision to invest in high-quality Internet infrastructure. Even though incumbent providers tend to flock toward more densely populated areas, such as Bangor, the FCC’s decision last year to revoke network neutrality protections raise questions for communities served by some of the largest ISPs. More local communities than ever are investigating local control of broadband.
Not A Luxury Anymore
While Bangor’s resolution is primarily a symbolic move, the philosophy behind it — that fiber optic connectivity is an essential infrastructure — establishes an approach that’s catching on. City leaders are recognizing broadband infrastructure to be necessary for the well-being of their communities.
“Broadband is almost as important to our economic development as building a road to a factory used to be,” [director of communications and education services for Maine Municipal Association Eric] Conrad said. “Whether you’re in a rural area or not, Internet connectivity at a high speed is maybe the No. 1 infrastructure need for Maine towns and cities in the 21st century.”