China broadband committee members review models of potential offerings, prices

by Mary Grow

China Broadband Committee (CBC) members reviewed models for potential broadband offerings and prices for customers at their May 26 meeting and asked for more definite information, if possible, to share with residents.

They also worked on an application for a Phase II planning grant from ConnectMe to help them get the information.

And they talked briefly about Spectrum Community Solutions, the company currently providing internet service to an estimated 70 percent of China households.

The CBC plan requires enough income from broadband users to repay a proposed bond that would fund costs of new internet infrastructure; to pay for ongoing internet service; and to provide a profit for the company that provides the service. Committee members do not want to suggest an increase in local taxes to support the project.

The currently proposed service provider is Machias-based Axiom Technologies. Company President Mark Ouellette participated in the May 26 discussion, as he has in previous meetings.

Consultants Mark Van Loan and John Dougherty, of Mission Broadband, had developed models showing what levels of service could be offered at what prices to make enough money to cover expected costs.

They were still dealing with the problems that have plagued earlier predictive efforts: until experts survey the town to see how many new poles and how many miles of cable are needed, construction costs are estimates; and until Axiom finds out how many customers want their service – the “take rate” – income is an estimate.

The goal is a maximum monthly charge of $50 for the lowest tier of service. That low a price is achievable in Van Loan and Dougherty’s models, assuming a high enough take rate.

The models propose a 15 percent discount for seasonal residents. One version would offer four service levels, the top – and most expensive — one named the Tod Tier in honor of committee member and self-described geek Tod Detre. Detre doubts many other residents would need the Tod Tier.

CBC members made no decision on a plan. They agreed they need to have one before they begin making presentations to enlist residents to sign up.

The ConnectMe grant application was due by midnight May 27. Ouellette, who had assisted another town with the same application, offered advice; Selectboard Chairman Ronald Breton and Town Manager Becky Hapgood called in their approval; and committee members planned to finish the grant during the day May 27.

They succeeded. CBC Chairman Robert O’Connor reported that an application for $7,500, to be supplemented by a $2,500 local match (from contingency funds, Hapgood suggested during the meeting), was emailed to ConnectMe before the deadline.

If ConnectMe awards a grant to China, the money will be used to pay Hawkeye Connections, Inc., fiber optic specialists based in Poland, Maine, to do an engineering review of “roads, premises, and telephone poles” that will define construction costs more accurately and improve cost estimates.

On the third topic, O’Connor told the rest of the committee he had received a communication from Spectrum, the most recent of several sent as CBC discussions proceed. Spectrum was one of three applicants to provide enhanced broadband service. After reviewing all three proposals early in 2021, CBC members chose to negotiate with Axiom.

O’Connor’s belief is that Spectrum officials are willing to submit proposals to match each improvement Axiom offers; but, he pointed out, they have not taken any action. He and Detre are among those saying that Spectrum cannot meet Axiom’s service level with its existing equipment.

The meeting ended with consensus that Van Loan, in consultation with Ouellette, would continue to work toward a more definite model, and that the committee would meet again at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, June 3.


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