At the beginning of June, the city of Bar Harbor, Maine successfully passed the $750k bond needed to construct its network, with work to proceed shortly.
Tag: "bar harbor"
Bar Harbor, Maine (pop. 5,500) has been trying to get a municipal fiber network off (and into) the ground for more than half a decade. If local officials throw weight behind the most recent move, we may see momentum continue to build for faster, more reliable, affordable, and universally available Internet access for government use, commercial development, and maybe, down the road, residents as well.
We last checked in with the town in 2016, when its franchise agreement with Charter had expired and negotiations for a new agreement had stalled. At the time, Bar Harbor was considering a $100,000 engineering study to flesh out the possibility of a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network or a $50,000 study to do so for a government-only network, but at the last minute the town’s Warrant Committee and Council decided not to move ahead on either at the last minute. Since then, the situation has remained more or less in stasis.
But with recent changes, Charter has signaled that it will begin to charge Bar Harbor $45,000 a year for access via – a ten-fold increase over the $4,500/year the town currently pays. With the company refusing to negotiate, on December 15 the Town Council, at the recommendation of the Communication and Technologies Committee (CTC), voted unanimously to place a $750,000 proposal to build their own institutional network onto the 2022 budget draft review. The general public will have the chance to vote on the measure in June.
Locally Owned Infrastructure at a Fraction of the Price
A 2019 Casco Bay Advisors engineering plan offers some additional details in the potential network. It would run for 19 miles, both aerially and underground, to connect initially nine but up to as many as 25 government buildings (including town offices, public safety locations, water and waste water stations, public works, etc.), three schools, a library, and other sites like the town’s highway garage. Because of the surrounding topography, wireless doesn't work well on the island (Acadia National Park and Cadillac Mountain both disrupt lines of sight). A wireline connection would be miles ahead of what they currently have. Included in the roughly $750,000 build is slightly less than $270,000 in...Read more
On June 7th, Bar Harbor residents voted against funding the first $50,000 of a $100,000 engineering study for a fiber network to connect municipal facilities. A contentious 47-57 vote at the annual town meeting erased the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) from the annual budget, postponing progress on potential publicly owned Internet infrastructure.
Decision Leaves Locals Stranded
The town is still clinging to hopes that it can arrange a new agreement with incumbent provider Charter Communications, who owns the majority of fiber on Mount Desert Island, where the city is located. The franchise agreement, inherited by Charter Communications when it merged with Time Warner Cable, expired in 2014. Negotiations on a new agreement appeared to have stalled when Charter wanted to begin charging the town access to incumbent fiber. In the prior agreement, municipal use of fiber to municipal facilities was a service included without an additional fee.
Bar Harbor officials are finding themselves in the same position as other communities similarly situated. After years of dependence on incumbent infrastructure connecting city buildings as part of franchise agreements, incumbents are now trying to squeeze as much as possible out of that dependence. Time Warner Cable tried the same strategy in Martin County, Florida, but the community invested in its own fiber-optic network and is now saving millions.
Apparently, Bar Harbor's leadership was split over the decision to include the funds for the study in the budget. During the budget process, the Warrant Committee took several close votes on whether or not to include the funding. Ultimately, the entire community decided that they prefer to maintain a balance in their CIP fund.
Mount Desert Islander reported on the June 7th vote,
“'A majority of the council thinks it’s prudent to have some money in the account in case things change with our agreement," [Councilor] Stivers said.
Preliminary Study Lighting the Way
A 2015 preliminary study evaluated the possibility of Bar Harbor building a fast...Read more
For the past several months, Maine communities have been a hotbed of broadband activity. Bar Harbor, located midway along the state's Atlantic coast, is another community looking at fiber as a necessary investment.
According to a February article in the Mount Desert Islander, the town of 5,200 has decided to move forward with a feasibility study. The town received Internet access at no additional cost as part of its previous franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable. That agreement expired about a year ago and, as we have seen in other communities, the cable giant now appears to be holding out in order to charge for the same service. From the article:
“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.
A similar situation in Martin County, Florida, inspired that community to build its own network. It is now saving millions, with no need to contend with typical Time Warner Cable hassles, price hikes, and poor service. Read more in our case study on Martin County [PDF].
Bar Harbor seems to be adopting the same attitude as the rest of the state. They see that economic development success rests on connectivity and that entities like Time Warner Cable are not in business to boost local economic development. Booher went on:
“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.”