China broadband committee not yet committed to Axiom; discussions amicable

by Mary Grow

China Broadband Committee (CBC) members had an amicable March 18 zoom discussion with Mark Ouellette, president of Machias-based Axiom Technologies, their currently preferred choice for improved broadband service in China.

Committee members reviewed proposals from Axiom and two other companies before deciding to talk first with Axiom. They made it clear that they are not yet committed to contracting with Axiom.

Their goal is broadband service that will serve every household and business in town, including those not currently served; that will be stronger and more reliable at all times than services now available; that will easily adapt to future technologies; and that will cover the estimated $6 to $7 million installation cost, plus maintenance, without enormous bills for either subscribers or taxpayers.

Ouellette thinks his company can deliver. He thinks reliability is more important than price, within reason: “People want to be sure they can do what they want to do 24/7.” Axiom would provide bandwidth to cover maximum use at any time, and would hire a local service representative for prompt customer service.

He also promised adaptability, “generational service that’d serve your kids and your grandkids,” and keep China attractive to businesses needing top-grade internet.

Ouellette reminded committee members that they need to strike a balance between maximum service and minimum cost. Axiom is a profit-making business, and he expects to make money in the long run.

For now, Ouellette is satisfied to work with CBC members and the rest of the town on a handshake agreement. He told CBC members, “I’ll get my payment when I start to serve [China] customers with the best internet you can get in the world.”

Committee members agreed their next step is to publicize what they are doing and why they are doing it. They began planning an education campaign to discuss with town voters the advantages of superior broadband service for residents and for the local economy.

Ouellette and committee members cited several advantages: every resident’s ability to work from home, whether required by the pandemic or not; extras for local businesspeople, like the auto mechanic who could have Axiom help him install and maintain free WiFi in his waiting room; and the potential to attract a major institution, like a research laboratory, that would provide jobs and pay taxes.

One suggestion was to prepare a question-and-answer document to cover anticipated questions about services, costs and anything else they can think of. Another was to hold a series of community meetings, in person if conditions permit. Ouellette is willing to help, including joining committee members in an informational work session with the selectboard if one is scheduled.

CBC members also intend to draft a letter of intent or similar document with Axiom, an agreement that gives both parties increased certainty, though either party can withdraw if negotiations fail.

The next CBC meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 25, and the one after that for 7 p.m. Thursday, April 1. Ouellette is unable to zoom in on March 25 but is expected again on April 1.


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