China Broadband Committee (CBC) members had a busy late September schedule, holding a committee meeting Sept. 23; participating in a public informational session by zoom Sept. 26 (see related story); attending the selectmen’s Sept. 27 public hearing on the Nov. 2 warrant article asking for funding for expanded broadband in China; and later discussing their proposed informational flyer with selectmen.
Selectmen did not approve printing and mailing the Sept. 27 version of the flyer with town funds.
CBC members therefore confirmed the committee meeting they had tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 30. They intend to redraft the flyer.
Ronald Breton, chairman of the selectboard, said if they work fast, he will call a special selectmen’s meeting to consider a new version, rather than delaying distribution until after the Oct. 12 selectboard meeting.
On Nov. 2, China voters will be asked to authorize – but not require – selectmen to obtain a $5.8 million bond, to be supplemented by grants, to build broadband infrastructure throughout the town.
The Sept. 23 CBC meeting was devoted to plans to publicize the Nov. 2 vote. CBC members reviewed a two-sided legal-sized flyer that presented information supporting the broadband expansion and specifically urged a “yes” vote on the ballot question.
Selectman Wayne Chadwick, from the audience, expressed his personal opinion that the committee should not use town funds to influence voters.
CBC members pointed out that on the ballot, voters will see recommendations from the selectboard and the budget committee (both oppose the question, the selectboard by 3-2 and the budget committee by 4-1), but no recommendation from the CBC, which supports the question.
By Sept. 27, they had revised the flyer to eliminate exhortations to approve the bond issue. Selectmen nonetheless objected that it was one-sidedly in favor of the bond issue – “all pro and no con,” as Chadwick put it.
Breton remembered an earlier meeting when he had urged CBC members to promote their project with funds selectmen appropriated for the committee. “You got your money, go out and sell it,” he quoted himself, from memory.
More recently, however, Breton asked Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood to consult town attorney Amanda Meader about the situation. Hapgood reported that Meader said a flyer that was “persuasive” rather than “informational” did not benefit voters and should not be funded by the town.
Breton therefore joined his fellow board members in suggesting the flyer provide additional factual information, for example on costs, that they thought would be helpful to voters.
The result was a vote to ask CBC members to prepare a revised flyer with more information and less persuasion, and to seek approval to have it printed and distributed with town funds. Breton, Chadwick, Blane Casey and Irene Belanger voted in favor; Janet Preston, who is the selectboard’s ex-officio representative on the committee, abstained.
Preston explained that she thinks the improved broadband service is a benefit to the town and supports the bond issue, but she also understands the objections to the Sept. 27 version of the flyer.
Public hearing well attended
The half-hour public hearing on the Nov. 2 bond issue that preceded the Sept. 27 selectmen’s meeting was one of the best attended in recent memory, with audience members participating from the meeting room and over the town’s Live Stream.
Audience members’ questions about the China Broadband Committee’s (CBC) plans if the $5.8 million bond issue is approved were answered by Ronald Breton, chairman of the selectmen; Mark Ouellette, President of Axiom Technologies, attending his second China meeting in two days; and CBC members.
Ouellette and CBC Chairman Robert O’Connor explained some of the technical issues about connecting directly from the world-wide web via a southern Maine point and a China central office to each subscriber’s house.
Because of the direct connection, Ouellette said, each subscriber will get the speed of downloaded and uploaded information paid for, every hour of every day all year, without the variability characteristic of current services.
The proposed bond issue is for 25 years.
Residents satisfied with their current service may keep it. O’Connor said currently about 70 percent of China residents have cable service; another about 25 percent have DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service; and the remaining about five percent have no internet access.
Selectman and ex-officio CBC member Janet Preston said Regional School Unit #18 had provided a map showing where students had no access, providing locations for some of the unserved areas.
Ouellette said employees of Hawkeye Fiber Optics (also called Hawkeye Connections) have finished the survey of existing utility poles in China and are scheduled to report immediately. Survey results will provide a more accurate estimate of the cost of building the proposed new network.
CBC member Tod Detre asked for and received permission to post the results on the committee’s website, chinabroadband.net.
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