BANGOR, Maine — City officials are moving swiftly to fill the ranks of a newly formed task force designed to explore options for promoting fiber-based broadband Internet access throughout Bangor.
City officials released Thursday the names of 15 people who have agreed to serve on the task force to date.
Councilor Joe Baldacci, who proposed the task force and serves as its chairman, said the plan is to have up to 20 members. The first meeting is scheduled for noon Wednesday, May 27, in council chambers at City Hall.
“The first goal is to identify what we have for broadband versus what we could have,” Baldacci said. “The second goal would be to see how feasible it is to make some improvements all over the city.”
Formation of the task force came Monday by vote of the City Council. In February, a council committee delayed consideration of the task force’s formation until staff could prepare a proposal detailing what the committee’s purpose would be.
Baldacci said Wednesday, city officials plan to seek state grant funds to pay for the planning work so local dollars won’t be spent on the project.
Asked about the potential cost of adding Internet infrastructure, Baldacci proposed a public-private partnership consisting of interested businesses and governments, particularly the state and federal governments. He said the central issue is economic development.
“Every community is going to have to look at this issue, because it’s an issue about keeping economic competitiveness, being able to offer businesses the best available broadband,” Baldacci said.
According to Jeff Letourneau, executive director of Networkmaine, other Maine cities that are exploring public-private partnerships to help expand broadband access include Rockport, South Portland, Portland, Old Town, Orono, Islesboro, Sanford, Ellsworth and Bar Harbor.
Networkmaine is a unit of the University of Maine System that provides high-speed Internet to the state’s research and education community.
But not all city councilors agree that historically private Internet infrastructure needs public assistance to expand.
Councilor David Nealley said Thursday high-speed Internet is already available in areas of the city where there is enough demand to support it. In those areas, he said, there are still many vacant spaces available for businesses to locate.
“Instead of constantly building infrastructure out all over the state of Maine, how about if folks and their businesses and maybe even their homes locate where the best infrastructure already exists?” he said.
Letourneau, who has been appointed to the committee, told councilors in February that while the city has fiber-based broadband access in key areas, there are still “glaring, gaping holes.”
As of Thursday, in addition to Baldacci and Letourneau, the committee’s membership consisted of the following:
— Chip Spaulding of the Eaton Peabody Law Firm.
— John Porter, president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce.
— Sarah Davis, senior director of government relations for FairPoint Communications.
— Mike Edgecomb, director of government relations for Time Warner Cable.
— John Dougherty of the business consulting firm Dougherty Project Management.
— Chuck Carter owner and creative director of video game development company Eagre Games Inc.
— Scott Blake, senior vice president and chief information officer of Bangor Savings Bank.
— William Davis, director of research and innovation for the Bangor Daily News.
— Daniel Baker, sales engineer at OTT Communications.
— Jeff McCarthy, a telecommunications executive at Maine Fiber.
— Jeff Nevins, public relations manager at FairPoint Communications.
— Ben Sprague, Bangor city councilor.
— Kelly Cotiaux, a partner at the Web-development firm Sephone Interactive Media.
“It’s a big membership of people, a cross section of the community, people from university, from the business community, from the chamber, some people from downtown businesses,” Baldacci said.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.