China Broadband Committee (CBC) members entertained a proposal for expanded service by Spectrum at their Dec. 9 meeting, and offered multiple suggestions for sweetening the deal.
Spectrum was represented by Melinda Kinney, Regional Senior Director for Spectrum’s parent company, Charter Communications. Her prepared presentation started with Spectrum’s nation-wide reach, zeroed in on China and included an offer.
Nationally, Charter/Spectrum has more than 750,000 “miles of network infrastructure” in 41 states. In Maine, the company serves 448,000 customers, in 293 communities, and has 680 employees. Augusta, Bangor and Portland are listed as the largest “employment centers,” but Kinney said the company tries to hire local technicians and other employees who are familiar with the service area.
In China, Kinney showed 2,268 homes and businesses served. The proposal she presented would add 15.9 miles of infrastructure, reaching 120 currently unserved homes. The cost would be $296,380 for Charter and $429,000 for the Town of China.
The plan would not be the all-fiber system CBC members prefer, but the hybrid now in use: a fiber network with copper connections to each building served.
Nor would the speed be as high as CBC members think necessary. Kinney presented several speeds, with cost options and additional-service options. Spectrum offers two programs to assist low-income consumers, she said.
CBC member Tod Detre’s reaction was, “We’d be paying for you to extend your network.”
Kinney agreed; China’s $496,000 would bring the town no ownership rights. Spectrum would own and be totally responsible for the network.
The following discussion established that there could be more than 120 unserved houses, and if so Spectrum would consider adjusting its proposal, within limits. Long driveways might prohibit service, or make installation expensive for the home-owner; roads with no utility poles could not be served, Kinney said.
CBC members’ previous discussion with Axiom, a potential service provider, was based on the town owning the infrastructure and Axiom – or a successor if town officials so chose – being entirely responsible for service. Axiom proposed running fiberoptic cable to every house, eliminating the copper link.
On Nov. 2, China voters rejected the committee’s proposal to authorize selectmen to issue a bond to pay for the new infrastructure to support Axiom’s service.
For the Spectrum proposal, cost was one issue for CBC members. Discussion of whether grants could cover part of China’s share was inconclusive, because Maine’s rules for awarding internet connectivity grants are not yet written.
The other major issue was running fiber all the way to each building. Detre and CBC Chairman Robert O’Connor think it’s essential, both for superior service now and because it’s the way internet development is going. O’Connor urged Kinney to ask her company to get ahead of the times.
Her reply was that fiber to the home might be feasible in a new service area, but replacing the existing infrastructure in China is probably not feasible. She told CBC members she will relay their concerns and suggestions to her superiors and report back as she gets answers.
Spectrum still has potential competition, even if Axiom is counted out.
At the Nov. 22 China select board meeting, board and CBC members heard a presentation from Bob Parsloe, of Wireless Partners, LLC, another internet possibility for China residents. At the Dec. 9 CBC meeting, O’Connor said he would like to talk again with representatives of Consolidated Communications, which currently serves some China homes.
The next CBC meeting is tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article (and the print edition) incorrectly referred to the Charter/Spectrum representative as Melinda Perkins. Her name is Melinda Kinney. The article has been updated. We apologize for the error.
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