Having a reliable, high‑speed Internet network that offers residents the ability to stream content without constraint, utilize telemedicine, telecommute and teleconference is one of the foremost goals of Calais and Baileyville in the municipalities' ongoing effort to attract residents and businesses. A major step has been taken toward that goal with the signing of the first interlocal fiber optic Internet utility in the state, an action completed on August 29 by Calais City Manager Jim Porter and Baileyville Town Manager Rick Bronson.
With the signing of the agreement, there are only a few steps remaining before the dark fiber network is expanded and connected to residents in each of the towns. While the town council of Baileyville approved the funding of the project with a rare unanimous vote of 15‑0, Calais will be holding a public referendum to give its citizens the opportunity to vote. The Baileyville council authorized a cost of up to $1.4 million for the project, while Calais citizens may be looking at up to $2.3 million. The referendum is tentatively planned for November 7.
"Our business model projects that revenue from the leasing of the fiber will pay for the cost to operate and maintain the network as well as to pay off the debt," explains Julie Jordan, director of the Downeast Economic Development Corporation (DEDC). The DEDC is itself a joint corporation created by Calais and Baileyville. "The taxpayers of each community should see no change in their respective tax bills."
If the citizens of Calais vote to approve the funding of the project, work will begin immediately to connect the fiber lines to residences in the central part of each town. By the time the project is complete, approximately 97% of the homes in both municipalities will have the option of participating in the fiber optic system.
Participation is not mandatory, nor is it intended to conflict with current services. The municipal utility will be providing the framework for providers to deliver services at the behest of the customer rather than the municipals offering Internet service themselves. So far, the providers that have agreed to utilize the network are Pioneer Broadband, OTT Communications, GWI, Axiom Technologies and FairPoint Communications. "One of the benefits of this type of business model is that it will allow for an open access network," says Jordan. "Customers, if they choose to subscribe to the new network, will have the opportunity to stay with their current broadband provider. And with many players in the game, competitive pricing will help the consumer." Each provider will set its own cost for the service; however, the initial projections of cost by the municipalities are around $55 a month for 25 megabytes a second download and upload speeds.
Fiber optic Internet offers speeds in excess of 500 megabytes per second depending on the package purchased by the consumer. By contrast, copper cable Internet speeds in the Downeast region tend to be no higher than 15 megabytes per second -- a situation replicated elsewhere in the state. A 2017 State of the Internet study by content provider Akamai listed Maine at 43rd in the nation for Internet speeds, with the average connection speed reaching just under 15 megabytes a second. The state with the highest Internet speeds on average is Delaware at just over 25 megabytes.
Opening the fiber optic network to Calais and Baileyville will dramatically impact available Internet speeds and, if the municipalities' goal is realized, dramatically increase the appeal of the area for the modern consumer.