by Peggy Schaffer of ConnectMaine
Congratulations on the progress you have made as a community. Often, we find communities get stuck at when they reach a point where they have some data on who is served and not, and have talked with the other community members on what a high quality broadband connection can mean. We see many communities that this point spend a lot of time spinning their wheels on “what ifs.”
Make three decisions:
Those “what ifs” will not go away until your community decides three basic things. These, I realize, are not small things, but they are the decision points that outline your next steps.
Do you want universal service? This is service that reaches everyone.
Do you want a FTTH project that is going to essentially lay down the infrastructure your community will use for the next 30-50 years?
Do you want to own the infrastructure – or do you want to have an ISP own the infrastructure.
As I said not small questions. But they are the fundamental questions that will then move the community forward on a path to get the information needed to put a plan in place to bring the service your community wants and needs.
I have a point of view on this, but the committee should too. These are probably the questions you have been dancing around for many, many months. I would urge to answer them. Take a vote as a committee. Hold a community vote. Host a forum. Whatever. Just answer them. It is a decision, and you need to make one.
I know many communities get hung up on “but how will we pay for it”. That question cannot be answered until you figure out what you want. These choices focus your options on a specific direction that you can then answer the how do we pay for it question.
Scarcity vs Abundance mindsets.
Also, worth noting is that we have all operated in a scarcity mindset on broadband infrastructure for more than a decade. There was simply not enough funding to get anything done. This scarcity mindset has limited our decision making and options. With the very real potential of over $400M in federal money alone coming to Maine over the next three or so years, it is time to shift that mindset to one of abundance. That abundance mind set should be what infrastructure does your community want and need to not have to go back and rebuild this for the next 40 years, and meet the unknown demand (except it will be higher and higher) for speed and latency in that time frame.
Think of it like a road. Do you want dirt roads, or do you want a well-built asphalt, with all the proper underlayment and drainage, that, other than repaving every 10 years, will serve the community for 40 years? And who do you want to own that road that everyone one is town is going to use. Those are the questions, only with fiber instead of asphalt.
And this infrastructure is A LOT cheaper than building (or even repaving) a road. A LOT. (Estimated cost for a road rebuild is $1M a mile. Fiber is about $35K a mile.)
The time is now.
Once you have made these decisions, your path forward is pretty straight forward. And timely. Money is flowing very very soon. Getting ready means answering these fundamental questions and moving forward. Stop getting hung up on how to pay for “it”. Define “it”, and then figure out how to pay for it. There are lots and lots of options from long term borrowing to taxes (!) to grants or combinations of all three. But you must decide what you want to be.