Internet service provider Consolidated Communications has issued a construction alert for Harpswell and surrounding communities as the company installs fiber-optic infrastructure for its Fidium Fiber broadband internet service.

Consolidated is expanding service coverage of its all-fiber internet network in Harpswell, Brunswick and Topsham, the company said Thursday, May 4, in a news release. It released a detailed map of the affected areas but no timeline for when the work would be completed.

“Construction has already started in some locations, with further build-out scheduled for the coming weeks,” it said. “Through this expansion, thousands more homes and small businesses in the community will have access to Fidium’s … fiber internet service.”

Residents should expect to encounter crews digging and climbing utility poles along the edge of private properties within the public right of way and utility easements, Consolidated said, adding that the work may cause temporary traffic detours, noise and dust.

The company didn’t offer specifics on when its Harpswell-area service expansion will be completed. It asked residents to be patient and advised them to keep an eye out for details in the near future.

“More information on the fiber build progress will be shared with town and city officials, as well as residents,” the release said. “Mailers, door hangers and construction alerts will be distributed to keep the public informed, and Fidium representatives will be visiting neighborhoods to share more about what to expect during construction and how to sign up to be the first notified as soon as service is ready to install.”

In surrounding areas such as Freeport, the Fidium service offers speeds up to 2 gigabits per second, fast enough for several users to simultaneously stream high-definition video or participate in online gaming or videoconferencing.

Benefits of competition

More than 99% of Harpswell residents already have access to broadband service through cable giant Comcast, which offers residential service under the brand Xfinity.

Xfinity offers speeds of up to 1.2 gigabits per second, a little more than half the speed Fidium is advertising. Only large households with multiple heavy internet users would likely require download speeds of more than 1 gigabit per second, but that could change as technology advances.

The Maine Connectivity Authority announced April 24 that it has awarded Comcast $276,000 through its Reach Me grant program, which will be matched by nearly $830,000 in private investment for a total of more than $1.1 million to extend its service to remaining unserved areas around Harpswell, Brunswick, Topsham and about a dozen other Maine communities.

The Reach Me program was made possible through a fund created by the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion federal economic stimulus measure enacted in 2021.

Connectivity Authority spokesperson Brian Allenby said the agency couldn’t share which specific locations would be funded in Harpswell because of the “confidential nature of the networks,” but that it would be posting more general route information to its website within the next week or so.

Harpswell Town Administrator Kristi Eiane reacted positively on Friday, May 5, to both the Fidium and Xfinity expansion announcements. She said increased competition among area broadband providers is good for residents.

“I’m pleased to hear about it — it sounds like there’s going to be some investment in this area, and I think it gives residents more options,” Eiane said in a phone interview.

Harpswell officials hadn’t received any specifics as of Friday about which areas would receive the expanded services, she said, but the town in March sent Comcast a list of about 40 addresses that don’t currently have access to high-speed cable internet service. It included addresses on Pole Island, Old Dunning Road, Natrimac Point Road, Little Ponds Road and Mallard Pond Road, among others.

A third provider, Cribstone Communications, is a Harpswell-based service with a fiber-to-the-home network that has advertised speeds of up to 300 megabits per second, with a system capable of offering speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.

Brian Lippold, president of Embden-based internet consulting firm Casco Bay Advisors LLC, said Harpswell is fortunate to have a dense enough population to support multiple broadband providers. He serves as a consultant to Harpswell and completed a broadband planning report for the town in January.

Lippold noted that the current offerings still fall slightly short of the town’s goal of achieving full broadband access to all locations.

“The big question I have for both Comcast and (Consolidated)/Fidium is, are they going to serve 100% of the residents, and if not, what areas are they leaving out?” he said. “I have reached out to both providers and expect to have answers soon.”