ROCKLAND, Maine — It would cost Rockland, Rockport and Owls Head about $18.6 million to construct a high-speed broadband network to reach everybody in their communities, but the long-term economic development generated would far exceed those expenses.
That was the conclusion of a report filed with the three communities on Aug. 31 by Tilson Technology Management. The communities commissioned the study earlier this year, and the Portland company surveyed residents about service.
Rockland’s Economic Development Advisory Committee recommended that the city should thoroughly explore the financial implications of a model where the city would provide every location in Rockland with access to fiber broadband, according to Rockland Community and Economic Development Director Audra Caler-Bell. The cost of having the service available should be built into the property taxes and usage fees would be additional for those who take advantage of the service, according to the committee recommendation.
“There are some significant policy decisions that need to be made next,” Rockland City Manager James Chaousis said Monday. “The City Council has only now received the report that is 70 pages.”
Rockport Town Manager Rick Bates said the Rockport Select Board has made extending high-speed broadband service to every home and every business a priority. He said the board wants to have a referendum on the June ballot to undertake whatever plan is put forward.
“While the numbers are big, the benefits are also big,” Bates said.
He said that when viewed in terms of other public utilities such as sewer, roads or water lines, constructing a broadband network to connect with the world is very affordable.
Bates pointed out that a place such as Rockport already had quality of life locked up but that people need to be able to work when they move to town.
He said this would be a huge benefit to the community. Last August, broadband was built for the village through a joint project between the town and GWI.
“Broadband investment can have a dramatic effect on economic development,” Tilson stated in its report. “Among other effects, broadband enhances efficiency and productivity of firms, facilitates commerce, attracts jobs, increases consumer options and saves residents money.”
The company said it estimates that the increases in economic activity in the three communities could increase $170 million over 10 years. This includes added jobs and higher wages for jobs.
An overview meeting between Tilson Technology and the municipal leaders of the three communities is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Rockport Opera House. Chaousis said he suspects that the City Council will not proceed on policy deliberation until after hearing from the consultants. Bates said Rockport Select Board members will meet Oct. 29 to discuss the issue.
The Tilson report found a high level of support in Rockland to explore a municipal solution to getting high-speed broadband. One important finding is that the only financing structure that would keep prices low and the network solvent is if there were subsidies from the municipalities.
“The business model most likely to achieve this involves the municipality owning the assets and committing to pay for them,” Caler-Bell pointed out about the report.
The total cost is projected at $18.6 million for all three communities. The cost for Rockland would be $7.6 million. The cost for Rockport would be $7.9. The cost for Owls Head would be $3.1 million. Bates pointed out that these estimates are for everyone to get the highest level of services and that there are some options to construct at a lower costs.
The projected cost per user for Internet would be $20 per month.
Construction would take about 18 months, according to the report.