Wiscasset edges toward Consolidated for broadband

Thu, 01/19/2023 - 8:45am

Wiscasset selectmen Jan. 17 approved 5-0 a letter of support for Consolidated Communications’ would-be application for a Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA) grant toward a broadband project. Consolidated’s Simon Thorpe told selectmen, depending on guidance he gets from MCA, the firm might apply with Wiscasset and other towns separately or, more likely, as a single, regional application. 

Thorne said the letter of support does not commit Wiscasset to chipping in and, if Wiscasset ends up wanting the project, the town would not have to chip in, but MCA encourages it. “They’re basically looking for towns to have a stake in the game.” According to the town’s broadband committee and Thorne, $100,000 from Wiscasset would yield a $100,000 match from Lincoln County. And Thorne said if Wiscasset adds up to another $83,000, the proposal would score higher. “Go as high as you can ... Not that the town has extra money sitting in a vault ... but I need you to understand” it would score better, he said. 

On selectmen’s questions, broadband committee members said based on the Authority’s Last-Mile Infrastructure Grants Committee’s picks among current applications, another option for broadband, a town-owned system, would need more like $2.6 million from the town to be competitive, not the earlier projected $1.3 million. Had the town already applied to MCA with a proposed local match of $1.3 million toward a municipal system, “there is pretty clear evidence” the project would not have won an MCA grant, Evan Goodkowsy of the Wiscasset committee told selectmen.

Selectman Dusty Jones, the board’s liaison to the committee, asked why the town should pay anything toward a system the business would own and get customers with. As part of the MCA grant request, Consolidated would agree to serve all of town, not just the denser parts that make sense financially, Thorne and Committee Chair Carla Dickstein explained.

Selectmen’s Chair Sarah Whitfield said she did not want Wiscasset to take on the infrastructure of a town-owned system, whether it cost the town $1.3 million or twice that. “Makes two of us,” Selectman William “Bill” Maloney said.

Selectman Terry Heller said town-owned has a lot of pros and some cons. Then she said serving all of town was why Wiscasset has been pursuing a project. The town could get all the town served by spending more for a town system, or less by going with a provider, Town Manager Dennis Simmons said.  He and Jones noted the town has other infrastructure needing money, including the sewer department’s needs.

The newly projected, higher sum toward a town-owned broadband system was “a huge hurdle,” Dickstein said.

“When we still have so many other hurdles that we haven’t gotten over yet,” Simmons said.

Also Jan. 17, the board reappointed Raymond Soule and Ervin Deck to the airport advisory committee and Stephen P. Wallace to the planning board, and nodded Huntoon Hill’s blanket 2023 request for beano and sealed tickets.