BANGOR, Maine — Urban centers, including Bangor, are typically devoid of utility poles.
The reasons are twofold: One, there is usually not much space available, and two, poles can interfere with a city’s aesthetic.
That means the infrastructure that allows for telephone lines, cable lines and broadband Internet access are forced underground.
The city of Bangor recently began the process of figuring out exactly what lies beneath its downtown streets and what options the city might have for expansion.
City Councilor Cary Weston recently invited representatives from FairPoint Communications, Oxford Networks, Time Warner and the University of Maine System to help develop a work plan for increasing broadband access downtown.
“Access, or lack of access, affects economic development, so we need to see what we can do,” said Weston, who chairs the council’s business and economic development committee and co-owns a local marketing and public relations firm. “The potential to expand seems to differ depending on who you ask.”
Added Councilor Rick Bronson: “We’re in a bad position as a city with our lack of technology infrastructure.”
If the initial discussion in Bangor revealed one truth, it was this: FairPoint has the lion’s share of the underground infrastructure and, other than public entities like UMS and the city of Bangor, few others have access to those cables.
“Anyone who owns conduit, whether it’s FairPoint or anyone else, is going to be protective of that. The telecommunications industry is so proprietary,” said Jeff Letourneau, information technology specialist with the University of Maine System. “From the city’s point of view, they would do well to try to work with [FairPoint].”
FairPoint spokesman Jeff Nevins said his company is more than happy to continue discussions with city officials.
“We’re actually going to reach out to set up a meeting with them soon,” he said. “We need a better sense of exactly what they are looking for from us.”
Brian Paul of Oxford Networks said his company has been building mileage all over Bangor but has been unable to gain access downtown. A representative from Time Warner agreed that competing companies are restricted from offering service in Bangor’s downtown, although neither blamed FairPoint directly.
“Time Warner and Oxford both said they can’t go downtown, but that’s not entirely true,” Letourneau said. “They can, but it would be expensive and risky.”
In other words, it makes more sense to divvy up what already exists. Letourneau also said the city of Bangor has a big role in granting access in terms of rights of way. If there is additional infrastructure to be built downtown, who pays for it?
“A lot depends on how active a role the city wants to play in helping FairPoint get over that capital expenditure hurdle,” he said. “Certainly, FairPoint is in the best position, but where on the priority list does downtown Bangor fall?”