The town will pay a Maine firm $13,725 to identify gaps in high-speed internet service in Harpswell and develop a plan to fill those gaps.
Casco Bay Advisors LLC, of Embden, helps communities and service providers expand the availability of affordable, reliable high-speed internet, according to its website. It counts more than 150 Maine municipalities among its clients, according to its proposal to the town.
The firm submitted the only response to the town’s request for proposals. The town staff and two members of the town’s Energy and Technology Committee reviewed the proposal and recommended approval. The Board of Selectmen approved the contract 3-0 on Oct. 27.
The town will cover the cost with $10,000 of federal funds, part of its $519,000 allotment from the American Rescue Plan Act. Voters approved the expenditure at the annual town meeting by referendum in April. The remainder, $3,725, will come from the budget for general government.
Brian Lippold, founder and president of Casco Bay Advisors, said the firm will start by identifying all potential broadband subscriber locations in Harpswell.
“We want to identify all of the potential locations because the more locations you have, the more attractive you are to a service provider,” Lippold said.
Next, the firm will conduct a field audit. It will drive every road in town to determine which locations have access to broadband through cable or fiber-optic providers and which locations have access to neither.
The firm will then analyze the data and may identify locations where the cable provider is not meeting an existing obligation to provide service.
More importantly, Lippold said, the firm will identify gaps in coverage and determine what the cost would be to fill those gaps or “to build a completely new fiber-optic system to serve all of the residents of Harpswell.”
Once the firm has cost estimates, it will look at options to cover those costs. The Maine Connectivity Authority awards tens of millions of dollars to municipalities and service providers in pursuit of universal broadband access, making it a likely source to fund a Harpswell project.
Harpswell’s broadband plan will position it to compete for those funds.
“This is all about building the foundational data to have a productive negotiation with service providers and to prepare for seeking state and federal grants to help improve service,” Lippold said. “Think of this as, we’re putting together the foundation for a house that’s going to be a solid foundation that you can build from once you have all of this data.”
Many of the 10-year-old firm’s 150-plus municipal clients in Maine have built fiber-optic networks, either in partnership with a service provider or on their own; or are in the process of doing so. “It’s a very, very active field right now,” Lippold said.
The firm’s work will focus on cable and fiber-optic infrastructure, rather than satellite options like Starlink.
“We do recognize that satellite service may be appropriate for very remote locations, but it is not deemed to be sufficiently reliable, bandwidth capacity per user can be limited as more subscribers join the services, and (it) does not qualify for state/federal grant dollars,” Lippold said in an email.
The staff and committee members who recommended the contract also recommended that the town budget another $10,000 in federal funds to continue working with Casco Bay Advisors in 2024. The next phase of work could include applying for grants to implement the plan.