Broadband OK’d on offshore islands

Posted 2017-03-17

Dick Broom / Mount Desert Islander

Residents at the annual Cranberry Isles town meeting on March 11 voted overwhelmingly to borrow up to $1.2 million to build a fiber optic network for broadband internet service.

The network would provide broadband internet service to the town’s three inhabited islands: Great Cranberry, Little Cranberry (Islesford) and Sutton. The vote was 52-4.

Voters at town meeting authorized the town to partner with Axiom Technologies, which specializes in delivering “customized rural broadband deployment solutions to remote communities,” to build the network infrastructure. Axiom, based in Machias, has offered to pay up to 15 percent of the capital costs.

The town last year received a $10,000 grant from the Island Institute to cover part of the cost of hiring a consultant to help design the project and prepare grant applications.

The total cost of the project, including infrastructure, is estimated at just under $1.55 million. The town is applying for a $1.31 million grant from the Rural Development Community Facilities Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to cover most of the cost. The town would pay $230,000.

But town officials are applying for grants that they hope will cover much if not all of the cost of the project.

The USDA grant program was set up to finance “essential community facilities for public use in rural areas.” In 2010, it awarded a $398,000 grant to help with construction of the $915,000 Swans Island Library. Town officials also intend to apply for grants from ConnectME and the Northern Border Regional Commission.

Currently, RedZone Wireless provides internet service to residents of Islesford and some of the seasonal homes on Sutton Island, but RedZone service is to be discontinued in October. Some residents of Great Cranberry have RedZone service, but most are served by FairPoint Communications, which will continue to be an option on that island.