Wiscasset comp planners hear call for fiber

Sun, 07/18/2021 - 8:45am

    Get a broadband committee and learn from and maybe work with other towns on fiber, three people advised Wiscasset July 14. The town has internet service, but that and Wiscasset’s relatively low density make upgrading to fiber harder, Maine Broadband Coalition co-founder Carla Dickstein and Midcoast Internet Coalition’s Matt Seigel told the comprehensive plan committee over Zoom.

    “We’re going to be left in the dust if we’re not up to pace with what’s going on right now,” Dickstein said. “If we care about ... the future of Wiscasset, we need modern technology... and it’s not cable.” She and Siegel said unserved towns can better compete for grants, and towns denser than Wiscasset can better attract providers to add fiber.

    Siegel said it is essential the town put broadband down in writing as a priority and form a broadband committee. “Without connectivity, our small communities will wither and die.”

    It sounds like businesses can make the best case for fiber, committee member Anne Leslie said. “That is more compelling, I think, than me saying my internet’s terrible.” She said Dickstein’s description of a regional broadband utility interested her. Dickstein said towns can combine public and private funds, make a business model, own the utility, use a private provider and get revenue bonds. If local taxes are not an option, county funding still could be, she said.

    Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Mary Ellen Barnes said most area towns have broadband committees and she really hopes Wiscasset gets one. Towns are “in different places” on broadband, like Westport Island that is expanding with Spectrum, “but that doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be looking down the road,” Barnes said.

    Dickstein said Wiscasset’s last comprehensive plan had “a major hole” by having no broadband section. Strong broadband supports businesses, telecommuting, telehealth and education, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, she said.

    The discussion was “super helpful,” comp plan committee chair Sarah Whitfield said. Whitfield, also selectmen’s chair, said Town Manager Dennis Simmons recently mentioned the broadband committee idea and the board will need to discuss it further.

    The comp plan committee takes up agriculture Aug. 2 and education Sept. 20, Whitfield said.