OPINIONS: A “yes” vote urged on broadband ARPA warrant article
by Bob O’Connor
China Broadband Committee
The China Broadband Committee was formed in 2017 to find a way to bring the best Broadband internet solution to China. Last year we chose Axiom Fiber to build that system. The selectboard and townspeople voted down our proposal last November because of the risk that it could potentially adversely affect property taxes due to repayment of the $6 million bond if not enough townspeople signed up for this service.
As a committee, we went back to the drawing board to look at all possible solutions again. We reviewed proposals from our incumbent providers, Spectrum Charter, and Consolidated Communications. We found the Spectrum bulk proposal too financially risky for the town. Consolidated was not interested in expanding into China because we are in “Classic” China Telephone territory. The company might consider expansion in the distant future, seven or more years from now.
Unitel, of Unity, Maine, has been in the telephone business since 1904, about the same time that the China Telephone Company got its start. Unitel first offered fiber internet to the home in a limited area starting in 2015. Late last year, Unitel was acquired by Direct Communications, a larger family-owned company that offers fiber to the home in a few rural areas in a few US states.
Our broadband committee started working with Direct Communications (DC) shortly after they acquired Unitel last year. Unitel/DC are looking to expand to towns around Unity with the help of the current grants and funds. These grant funds can be spent to cover areas of our town that the Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA) defines as “Least Served” and “Unserved”. This includes about 25 percent of homes in China that typically have DSL or no service.
MCA now classifies the rest of town as “Underserved”, meaning that their service does not meet the minimum speed of 100/100 Mbps. This includes those with cable service from Spectrum. All new internet projects funded by MCA must be built to the minimum 100/100Mbps standard.
Our currently proposed project with Unitel/DC is to build a fiber backbone in town that is strong enough, that is, has enough fibers, to serve the whole town while initially serving the Least Served and Unserved areas. After this project is complete, Unitel/DC will continue to expand to the rest of the town, the underserved folks.
Town funding from this project is from the TIF fund of $30,000/year for 10 years for a total of $300,000. This expenditure was previously approved by the voters in 2021. Also, we are requesting $70,000. from a part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that China has received.
Unitel/DC will match our $370,000 contribution to the project.
We are also applying for an MCA “Connect the Ready” grant for about $460,000. The total project is approximately $1.2 million dollars with the Town contributing 31 percent, Unitel/DC contributing 31 percent and the MCA grant covering the remaining 38 percent of the project.
We will only apply for this grant if the townspeople vote in favor of the $70,000 ARPA fund distribution on the Warrant Article on November 8, 2022.
The town selectboard unanimously (5/0) recommended a “yes” vote on this $70,000 Broadband ARPA Warrant article. The Budget committee also recommended a “yes” vote (5/1).
Neither the TIF nor the ARPA funds will raise property taxes, and Unitel/DC would fully own and operate this service with no requirement for involvement from town staff.
Fiber internet service by Unitel / Direct Communications will improve internet speeds and reliability, increase value of your home, encourage economic development in town, allow for online learning, education, work, telehealth, and entertainment at an affordable and competitive price.
We appreciate your support. Thank you.