China budget committee urges “no” vote on broadband expansion

by Mary Grow

China Budget Committee members recommend voters not approve the bond issue for broadband expansion on the Nov. 2 local ballot.

At the Aug. 23 committee meeting, members talked with representatives of the China Broadband Committee (CBC) before deciding to disagree with them.

The vote on a motion to add a “No” recommendation under the ballot question was 4-1, Chairman Robert Batteese announced. He, Tim Basham, Kevin Maroon and Tom Rumpf voted to recommend against the bond issue. Trishea Story dissented.

The committee majority’s main argument was that CBC members are getting too far ahead; they should wait until amounts and allowed uses of pending federal and state funds have been made clear.

One budget committee member added that the option of collaborating with other towns should be explored. Another objected on principle to town government rather than private enterprise providing broadband service.

CBC members advocate the bond issue, currently estimated at around $5.6 million, to cover most of the cost of building new broadband infrastructure town-wide. They anticipate grants will cover about 15 percent.

Having bond money would put China in an advantageous position for getting grants, because the usually-required matching funds would be available, CBC member Tod Detre said.

CBC member Jamie Pitney said there had been informal discussions about regional cooperation.

The problem with waiting for a private company to offer improved service is that China is too small to attract investors, Detre said. Pitney said CBC members have talked with Spectrum, the company currently providing internet service to about 70 percent of residents, and found no interest in upgrading and expanding. Meanwhile, Detre said, some residents have no internet access at all, and others have limited service.

When the CBC asked for proposals for broadband service at the beginning of the year, there were three responses, including Spectrum’s expensive and inadequate offer, Pitney said. Since then, CBC members have chosen to work with Axiom Technologies to provide a town-owned, Axiom-operated and maintained system funded by user fees, not tax dollars.

Story said better service is essential as needs increase, for example for education, and to attract new businesses to town. Axiom’s proposed monthly $55 fee for the lowest service tier is significantly less than she pays now, she said.

Pitney and Detre pointed out that authorizing the selectmen to apply for the bond does not mean they must do so. If too few residents sign up for the new service to provide needed income, or if grants are not awarded, selectmen need not act on the authorization.

At the Aug. 16 China selectmen’s meeting, Selectboard members decided their recommendation on the ballot question will be “Leave to the people” or similar wording, meaning that as a board they recommend neither for nor against the bond issue.


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