Urge Knox County Commissioners to support the broadband change we need

Tue, 10/12/2021 - 10:45am

With federal grant money coming into the State of Maine, Midcoast Internet and its far- reaching Coalition of regional municipalities support the Town of Rockport’s Broadband Pathway Project. The Town of Rockport has submitted a grant application to Knox County for County ARPA Grant funding in the amount of $750,000. The Pathway Project is a first phase build of broadband infrastructure, specifically designed to bring affordable and reliable high speed connectivity to the unserved and underserved communities throughout our region.

Midcoast Internet has determined that Rockport, as the first community in the state to install a fiber optic broadband network, is poised to provide sufficient density to start the regional municipal utility broadband effort.

The Rockport Select Board has supported this project with the contribution of their municipal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, expecting to total approximately $177,500.

The Town of Rockport has taken the important next step as it applies to the Knox County Commissioners as part of this essential regional infrastructure build. The $750,000 funding request has the support of the neighboring municipalities of Camden, Rockland, and Thomaston.

With these four municipalities representing 46% of the County population, this broadband request is less than 10% of the ARPA funds for a project that will benefit the wider Knox County region. This seed money would allow the nonprofit broadband utility — established and owned by the region’s municipalities — to obtain additional revenue bond and/or other financing that will make the project a reality. The sooner we begin building the Rockport fiber optic network, the sooner the regional municipal utility will be in a position to build out and serve the rest of Knox County.

Charter/Spectrum, a national cable provider, is gearing up for a full offensive to stop any encroachment on their profitable business model, and has once again amped up its efforts to oppose municipally-owned infrastructure.

Area residents are receiving banner ads on their online news feeds and direct mail touting the quality of Spectrum’s rural internet service. Don’t fall for it. The provider seeks to squash our community-owned broadband initiatives.

A Value Line analysis of Charter/Spectrum’s financial position is telling. Charter Communications (doing business as Spectrum) is #70 of the Fortune 500 companies, with revenues of over $50 billion, and a stock price which is up 475% in the past 5 years. The write-up notes that much of Charter/Spectrum’s assets are well beyond their depreciable life. These assets include the outdated coaxial cable we have here in Midcoast Maine that provides slow and unreliable internet service.

The company’s earnings per share are up 38% this year, while their revenue is up 7%, which means the company is highly profitable, yet is not using that profit to grow and invest in its business or in its customers. This reflects the slim chance that it will improve service into Maine’s and Knox County’s less profitable rural areas, much less upgrade to the current mandated service standards of fiber-to-the-home.

Midcoast Internet, a nonprofit, community-owned utility, is fully committed to our local communities and in touch with their needs.

We are committed to provide fast, affordable, and reliable state-of-the-art broadband service universally to all of our neighbors and community members. The utility can do this without raising the mil rates and without shareholders looking for a return on investment.

The community-owned, open access model best serves our region now and will serve us into the future, as we move towards the social and economic requirements of being fully-connnected, ensuring our essential services and the economic development of our communities. We are proud of the opportunity to partner with the Town of Rockport for this once in a generation chance to build for our region’s future.

Spectrum is on the agenda to present to the Knox County Commissioners at their meeting October 12, 2021 at 2 p.m. Please take the time to be informed. We invite you to join us at the Knox County meeting in support of community-owned broadband for Maine’s Midcoast. Residents who cannot attend the meeting are urged to submit a letter to the Knox County Commissioners to express their views.

As Senator Angus King has said with respect to broadband:

"I don’t think there’s a single thing that we could do in Maine that would have the impact that this would have – short term and long term. Real estate prices, keeping young people in the state, opening up employment opportunities for people in rural areas, seniors being able to do telehealth and not have to take a day to drive to Eastern Maine or wherever they have to go. I mean it’s the single most important thing – if there’s one thing we could do to push Maine forward, it’s this.”

Let’s make it happen Midcoast Maine — urge your Knox County Commissioners to grant the Town of Rockport’s application and be a voice in support of the change we need.

Debra Hall, Denise Munger and Matt Siegel are on the board of the Midcoast Internet utility. Hall and Munger live in Rockport; Siegel lives in Camden.