Broadband / Internet

NEWS

ConnectMaine NTIA Grant

The ConnectMaine Authority is working on a Federal NTIA grant application, aggregating a number of broadband projects that submitted RFI responses, providing information for this application. Somerville completed an RFI response and have been told we will be included in the grant application. That application to NTIA by ConnectMaine is due August 17th. We would know whether it will be funded on or about November 15, 2021.

POLE SURVEY (started 5/12)

The Broadband Committee is now working to gather specific information on every utility pole in town which will take several weeks. Please watch for them and don't be surprised if someone is taking photos of the utility poles. If your driveway is posted but has utility poles, we will need to survey those poles. So please expect them. There is no cost to the town to do this with volunteers, and it will prepare us to quickly request pole attachment licenses if adequate grant funding is received. That's important because the utility company has 7 months (1 for application processing and 6 to make poles ready) before we can start attaching fiber cable to the poles.

NETWORK MAP

The design for Somerville's FTTP Broadband Network is available. Here is a map showing where the splice boxes and CO are, the trunk and lateral fiber cables, and where the network attachment points are and potential service locations.

SURVEY

The broadband survey has closed. Nina Hutchins was the winner of the drawing for a $100 cash gift card.

REFERENDUM VOTE

Question 1 passed by a vote of 49 yes, 45 no.

That means we can proceed with the next steps toward bringing quality, reliable high-speed internet to our town. The closeness of the vote also means there are voters still worried about the financing or the capabilities of this project.

The Broadband Committee and Board of Selectmen still have hard work ahead to ensure those worries are unfounded. That means securing sufficient State, County, and Federal funding assistance to make what the town must borrow an amount able to be safely paid off by internet service revenues from the customers we sign up. If successful in that, we still have much work to do ensuring the project delivers the quality high speed Internet our townspeople need and deserve to compete and fully participate in the economic, educational, and other opportunities of the modern age for many decades to come.

CONNECT MAINE GRANT

The grant application was submitted on April 29th. ConnectMaine asked for some additional detailed information which was provided on May 14th.

Unfortunately our score of 83 meant that the available funds were used on projects scoring above ours.

We are seeking a matching commitment from the County which would allow us to score higher on the fall ConnectMaine grant round, and also are in the running for potentially being funded as part of a ConnectMaine application to an NTIA grant.

WHAT'S YOUR SPEED?

Visit the Maine Broadband Coalition speed test, and click RUN SPEED TEST (red button).

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A ConnectMaine grant would pay for 51.4% of the costs of the project.

American Rescue Plan (ARP) money received directly by the Town will likely be invested in the FTTH network construction, reducing how much the Town needs to borrow, and creating a greater margin of safety that broadband revenues will cover debt service. H.R. 1319 in Sec. 602(c)(1)(D) states "to make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure." Information from the Maine Municipal Association indicates Somerville's ARPA funding is expected to be $56,329 — half in the spring of 2021 and half in the spring of 2022. FYI, ARP funds are explicitly not allowed to be used to reduce taxes.

The Board of Selectmen have also written to the Lincoln County Commissioners asking for matching funding from the County's ARPA funds. The remaining town match would be financed by a Maine Municipal Bond Bank bond in Fall of 2021 at historically low interest rates, and for a number of years that will ensure debt service is a margin of safety below the revenue estimates.

Town revenues from internet service will be reserved for Broadband purposes, including paying the debt service.

Additional funding will be sought from other sources including foundation grants and fundraising.

TIMELINE

We will know as soon as we know whether the Town will be awarded a grant, and details of ARPA funds to be received directly and via Lincoln County once known. The ConnectMaine results could be decided as soon as its May 26 meeting.

If approved, set up of the Central Office (the old Town Office room at Somerville School) would likely begin in November 2021, fiber trunks installed starting as soon as January 2022 and service drops to homes and businesses would begin as soon as February 2022. The aim is to get all subscribers connected by July 2022, or even by May if the weather cooperates.

WHY BUILD A MUNICIPAL NETWORK?

Most of Somerville suffers from very poor internet service or none at all. In other parts it’s a bit faster but still unreliable. And the upload speeds are poor. We've spoken with the typical Internet service providers. We are the last place they would invest their money to build a better network, because investing where there are more customers per mile is more profitable than in rural towns. But it's not OK for the people and businesses of Somerville to be left out of those opportunities.

When we have to tell people looking to buy or rent or build here that there isn't fast internet, or reliable internet or even any internet service where they are looking, it hurts our town. When small business people have only slow and/or expensive internet options, or no option it costs them time and money that make competing difficult. It's a problem residents have lived with for too long. And it's holding us back. From telemedicine to education to business to entertainment options, the internet is an increasingly critical part of everybody's daily lives. Whether for students to do homework, adult learners to take online coursework, online workers to be able to work from home, or businesses to conduct their business online, it's a problem we must solve!

Just because the internet providers won't invest here doesn't mean we can't have a reliable high-speed Fiber-Optic network. It just means that it's time for us to take control of our own destiny by building our own — a municipally owned fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband network. We will continue to seek funding assistance through grants, low interest loans through the Maine Municipal Bond Bank, and use revenues from our service's subscribers to finance our municipal network. And we will contract knowledgeable partners such as Axiom to build our network, and operate and maintain it.

Will I Still Get to Choose My Internet Service?

Yes, everybody will still have a choice for where and whether to purchase internet service. We are confident most townspeople will subscribe because the Somerville municipal FTTH service will offer faster, more reliable, and more affordable service than their other choices.

Our funding model does NOT assume everyone will subscribe, and it does NOT assume that most subscribers will take the most expensive service. But it does plan to pay the debt service with the town share of what people who do subscribe pay for their service, not from property taxes, because we understand the difficult economic realities for many people in Somerville. The subscriber revenue projection is based on a model of typical take rates, and service choices which Axiom has experienced in other towns. That includes an expectation that 70% of those who subscribe will select the least expensive 25/25 service option, 20% will select a middle option, and 10% a 100/100 option.

Why a Fiber-Optic network?

  • Because fiber is reliable - fiber optics is very reliable technology; it just works, with very little down time.

  • Because fiber will meet future demand - the system is designed to scale as the needs for bandwidth increase, without requiring replacement of fiber cable for many decades.

  • Because where you live on the road won't dictate what actual speed service you can get. Unlike copper, the signals for all speeds of service can travel many miles, not limited like DSL to under 3.4 miles.

  • Because it is not subject to interference from nearby radios, power lines, or other electromagnetic signals.

  • And because it does not require a broad view of the sky unobstructed by trees to provide stable and reliable service.

What does this mean for our community?

The Town of Somerville will own the new broadband internet system and is partnering with Axiom to operate and maintain the system. The system will provide a direct fiber optic connection to each subscriber’s home!

  • You get what you pay for - if you purchase a 25Mbps plan, you’ll receive that amount of bandwidth, even when all your neighbors are gaming and streaming movies.

  • A good deal - Axiom will return a percentage of gross revenue back to the town, which can be used to pay debt from network construction, subsidize access for qualified families, and invest in future improvements.


The town-owned Fiber-To-The-Home broadband network will be able to provide service to all homes and businesses in town served by regulated public utilities (i.e. electrical or telephone service) that wish to have service. Adjacent to poles works too, options to connect far off-grid homes will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.


Performance. Economy. Reliability.

WHAT ABOUT __?

What happened to the USDA grant?

In 2020, townspeople approved, and the Town applied for a USDA ReConnect grant, and secured a ConnectMaine promissory letter to match another $210,000. Unfortunately, late last year, the USDA changed conditions for us after we applied, excluding funding for over half the addresses in town. That made building a network to offer service to everyone no longer affordable with a USDA grant. It was no longer the scope or cost townspeople had approved. That failure only reinforced the importance of exploring other grant opportunities, particularly from the state of Maine and from foundations.

Including a Maine Starlink beta user's observations. See what an actual Starlink user has to say about making it work.

Photo by ilker from FreeImages

What Will Internet Service Cost?

Speed Price/Month*

25Mbps / 25Mbps $64.99

50Mbps / 50Mbps $79.99

100Mbps / 100Mbps $99.99

Pricing for speeds up to 1000Mbps (1 Gbps) are available upon request.

* Seasonal rates may be applied to accounts that are active for 6 months of the year, June 1 - Nov. 1, are paid in full annually at the beginning of the summer season, and reflect a 15% discount off the regular yearly cost.

Deposits for Installation

(only required once the construction timeline is set later this year)

Leading up to the network buildout there will be zero-cost installations available during the network construction period. A $99 reservation deposit is required to secure your installation. This fee will be credited to your account and applied against your monthly service charges once installation is complete and regular billing commences.

IMPORTANT HOMEOWNER DETAILS

Those who do not secure their no-cost installation by placing a deposit during the construction phase will be subject to a significant installation fee should they desire service in the future. Fully paid installations will require a visit from Axiom to run fiber to the home and splice into the network, as well as purchase of the electronics hardware associated with the installation.

Although the fees for one-off installations after the network is deployed have not yet been determined, they will likely be several hundreds of dollars per premise or more. Axiom strongly recommends people take service during the initial construction period to ensure connectivity at your location and to avoid future high installation costs.

While your $99 deposit guarantees you a no-charge installation, it does not secure a particular date or sequence for your installation. Installations will occur in the order dictated by the logistics of the fiber buildout process, once funding is approved and the construction phase commences.

Customers connected during the no-charge install period are committing to a 2-year initial term of service. Subsequent to the initial 2-year term, subscribers are free to change providers or terminate service as they see fit.

NOTE: Signup for service will be available once we secure funding and sign construction and franchise agreements. We'll let you know!!

When we do, you will be able to secure your service by calling Axiom, and here is what you will need:

  • Pay a $99 reservation fee (this will be credited back to you on your first bill(s))

  • Provide your billing and contact information

  • Determine if you are taking year-round or seasonal service

  • Decide what speed package you wish to sign up for (you can change package later if you so desire)

How does fiber get to my home?

Most Common

The fiber will be hung throughout the town on existing utility poles. For installation to your home, we will follow the existing aerial telephone service lines that come from the road to your house, where a couple of small boxes will be installed on the side of the home to provide fiber connectivity.

Special circumstances

For some homes that do not have adjacent utility poles, or are down long private roads, we would investigate bringing fiber on top of the ground to the home. If you think this applies to you, please inform Axiom during the installation phase to discuss your particular circumstance.

Is underground installation an option?

Underground fiber service is an option at the expense of the homeowner. With some limitations, Axiom will run fiber through a properly installed conduit that is emplaced by the homeowner. Axiom recommends working with a local contractor to install and prepare the conduit to accept service and will provide specifications to the homeowner for this type of installation upon request.

Axiom will work with individual homeowners to address reasonable concerns about cable routing and other issues while running the fiber, however additional costs may be incurred if homeowner requests are determined to require significant additional staff time for installation. Axiom will not be responsible for landscape restoration, replanting, repairing turf damage, or other remediation required as a result of any additional work completed at the request of the homeowner.

Additional Dwellings/Family compounds

No-cost installations to as many buildings as are desired may be ordered as described above, by paying a $99 deposit and signing a 2-year contract for service at that building. Alternatively, property owners are allowed to share a connection between buildings on their property (garage, guest house, etc., provided they are all on the same tax map lot), however wiring connections between the buildings is the homeowner’s sole responsibility.

Sharing service between multiple properties (different tax map lots) is not permitted as costs for the town increase substantially if projected subscriber counts are not achieved. Should you so desire, Axiom will be available, at their customary rates, to consult on and construct customized solutions to integrate additional buildings on your property into a wired or wireless network, connecting back to your fiber connection.