Under a sunny sky for Saturday’s special town meeting, Westport Island voters agreed 79-1 to seek a ConnectME broadband infrastructure grant. Residents stood outside town hall for the vote that lets the Broadband and Cable Committee submit the grant, and authorizes the town’s match with $42,834 in unappropriated surplus and $19,816 in previously approved broadband costs. The $42,834 will then be repaid through funds from the American Rescue Plan.
Ralph Jacobs of the Broadband and Cable Committee said there would be no impact on taxes. He also answered several questions regarding those who had DSL internet through a phone line rather than a cable connection. Jacobs noted that those on a DSL line would not be impacted but could choose to switch to cable through Spectrum if the grant project goes through. At least 205 homes who have not previously been able to subscribe to a cable internet service would have access, news that brought a thumbs up from several residents who asked if their addresses would be covered.
Multiple residents at the meeting and in a broadband survey expressed frustration with either no internet access or slow and unreliable access. Committee member Jason Kates said the 911 database was used to identify all the houses they believed did not have broadband service.
Kates said Spectrum is the primary partner in the grant. He said Consolidated Communications was contacted about a possible partnership but declined. Resident Thomas Porter said he has Consolidated Communications and recently did a speed test with his service that resulted in 12Mpbs, while Spectrum offers speeds of up to 200Mpbs. He said the expansion of cable internet would greatly speed up his ability to run his business.
Everyone at the meeting abided safety protocols, including wearing masks and spacing apart. And moderator Chris Cooper observed, “I’ve got a big group of retirees here so there are lots of antibodies.”
Once ballots were counted and Cooper announced the results, a cheer went up from the crowd. The vote was just in time, with the grant applications due Monday, April 12.