Brownies and Broadband draws small audience: but lively discussion

by Mary Grow

The China Broadband Committee’s (CBC) second public informational session, held July 29 and publicized as Brownies and Broadband, drew a small audience and a lively discussion, just like the first one (see The Town Line, July 15, p. 3).

There were indeed brownies, and other desserts, and CBC Chairman Robert O’Connor brought samples of different internet signal carriers, old-fashioned wire that uses electricity to transmit and fiberoptic cable that, he explained, uses light instead.

O’Connor’s presentation covered the main CBC messages. The committee plan, if voters approve it, will provide expanded, faster, more reliable and future-proof service. The infrastructure will be owned by the town and operated and maintained by Axiom Technologies (or a successor company) under contract with the town. Costs will be paid by subscribers, not by town taxpayers.

The first questions came from Eric Austin, who was concerned about the relationship of internet with cable television, telephone and other services. O’Connor and John Dougherty, vice-president of consultants Mission Broadband, replied that internet subscribers could use Axiom’s “pipe” (Dougherty’s term) to connect to other services, but if they are content with their current arrangements, they would not need to.

Austin said in that case, there could be competing internet providers as well. Axiom President Mark Ouellette said in theory, yes; in practice, the customer base in China is not large enough to attract other companies.

Axiom, based in Machias, is establishing operations in other small Maine communities. Earlier in July Searsport voters, at a special town meeting, approved contracting with Axiom. Ouellette listed other customers and potential customers, including Somerville, Washington, Georgetown, Southport and Monhegan Island.

Former Waterville resident Bradford Sherwood, who now lives in South China, asked about China’s connection to the global network. Dougherty said the CBC plan includes constructing a small building near the middle of town where local fiberoptic cables will converge; from there, China’s internet will connect to the rest of the world, probably via southern Maine.

Richard Morse, also from South China, questioned whether residents will save money with a different internet system, and objected strongly to a town-owned system.
Governments are usually considerably less competent than private companies, Morse said. No one disagreed; but Dougherty pointed out that China officials would not run the company, but would contract with Axiom (or a similar company) to use private expertise.

The draft contract between Axiom and the town includes a clause allowing town officials to end the contract, at three-year intervals, if they are not satisfied.

Dougherty and Ouellette assured audience members that every telephone pole in China, on public and private roads, will have fiberoptic cable, so that nearby householders can connect if they choose. Ouellette added that his company has experience with wireless internet as well as fiberoptic, and will work with individual homeowners as needed.

Sherwood asked if underground lines were being considered. No, Dougherty replied – burying utility lines in Maine is expensive, especially with so much granite.

The Brownies and Broadband meeting was followed by an hour-long CBC meeting at which members discussed their planned Aug. 2 presentation to China selectmen.

By the next day, they had postponed the presentation, instead inviting selectmen to the next committee meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5.

They further scheduled a special committee meeting for 4:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 2, to try to finish cost estimates for selectmen to review. At that meeting, information was still lacking, and they had learned selectmen cannot join them Aug. 5.

O’Connor and committee member Neil Farrington spoke briefly at the Aug. 2 selectboard meeting and promised more information as soon as possible. They hope to have it collected and organized by their Aug. 5 meeting and to speak at the Aug. 16 selectmen’s meeting.

CBC information is available on the committee website, chinabroadband.net.

 
 

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