Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) What grant did the town win?
ConnectMaine won the award of an NTIA Broadband Grant on behalf of Somerville's municipally owned network and several other small rural towns in Maine.
On 2/25/2022 WASHINGTON – The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced today it has awarded $28 million to expand broadband in Maine. The award will be used to fund the ConnectMaine Authority Statewide Broadband Infrastructure project, which will deploy last-mile qualifying broadband in rural Maine. This project will serve 11,746 households across the state.
Somerville's portion of the grant that was awarded to ConnectMaine in February 2022 includes $1,441,711 in federal funding (90%) and a $160,190 match from ConnectMaine (10%), to cover the entire construction project cost of $1,601,901.
See this page for a brief on further financial details of Somerville's broadband project.
How can I get Somerville Broadband service?
See this page dedicated to information about broadband service, how to connect, and how to request a connection
Was every home and business in town included in the grant?
Yes, although there is now a complication. In brief, the Selectmen, with the assistance of the Somerville Advisory Committee, requested through ConnectMaine's RFI process preceding their NTIA grant application, that a broadband system be constructed so that every residence and business in town would have the option to be served by the new system. We learned in mid-June that approximately 20 homes in town have been excluded from receiving federal funding by a federal process in which broadband competitors can “challenge” the under-served designation that the NTIA grant relies on.
In this case, Spectrum has challenged several census blocks that include small portions of Somerville along with a section of Jefferson, on the grounds that they offer cable internet service to those census blocks. This is an action of bad faith on Spectrum's part since they challenged our serving those locations knowing that they do not serve any Somerville roads in those census blocks. The Selectmen and the Somerville Municipal Broadband Board are currently examining options for how to find roughly $20,000 in additional funds to cover the homes that we believe have been unfairly carved out of the project, and we will update townspeople as the situation evolves.
Did the town vote to support owning a broadband network?
Yes, twice. At an in-person town meeting vote on March 7, 2020 and a referendum vote on April 20, 2021. Article 3 in March 2020 was passed nearly unanimously. Question 1 in April 2021 passed by a vote of 49 yes, 45 no.
Did the town try to win other grant funding?
Yes, the Selectmen and Broadband Advisory Committee applied for two other grants.
We applied for a USDA grant in March 2020 that would have covered 75% of the project cost, with ConnectMaine providing half of our required match. But that grant application failed when USDA imposed new exclusions in the fall of 2020 which would have cut federal funding for over half the addresses in town, and asked us to adjust our application. 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, and we declined to update the USDA application.
We applied for a ConnectMaine grant in March 2021 that would have covered about 51% of the project but we did not win that grant.
Fortunately the NTIA federal grant that ConnectMaine won on our behalf, and the 10% match that ConnectMaine provided, fully cover the cost of network construction and most of the subscriber connections which is clearly the better financial outcome for the town. Our RFI submission in conjunction with Axiom to ConnectMaine in the fall of 2021 was the basis of ConnectMaine including us in their NTIA grant application.
How soon can I get broadband from the town?
If the remaining regulatory and pole make ready process can be completed by January 2023 as planned, Axiom will set up the Central Office in the old Town Office room at Somerville School by the end of 2022, start installing fiber trunks along roadways as soon as January 2023 and service drops to homes and businesses would begin as soon as February 2023. The aim is to get all subscribers connected by July 2023, or sooner if utility companies and the weather cooperate. Not all factors affecting schedule are within Somerville's control so delays may occur. Please see the next question for further information.
What could cause delays in the timing of Broadband Construction?
Utilities failing to accomplish make ready in the timeframe dictated by rule: Once we have executed an agreement with the utilities and we submit our pole attachment requests, the utilities should respond in 30 days with an estimate of make ready that is required and the fees they would ordinarily charge for completing it. Once they are asked to start that make ready, the utilities should do so within 6 months. Many projects are experiencing longer timeframes for utilities to complete these tasks than required by rule. There is nothing we can do to influence that.
Utilities challenging Maine law: Once we remind them that our municipally owned broadband construction is in accordance with Maine law (Title 35-A §2524) under which it is their responsibility to complete make ready at their own expense, and we ask them to proceed with make ready, they may decide to challenge the constitutionality of that statute in court. A court battle between the Maine Attorney General and the utility could cause months or years of delay to the make ready we need. We cannot allow that delay. Being aware of this potential, we made sure the costs for make ready were in the RFI, and thus the grant, which would reimburse Somerville if we borrow the money to pay for make ready under protest, to get the utilities to proceed.
That is our contingency plan if it is delayed in court - actually borrowing from the line of credit, and paying the loan off when reimbursed from the grant 60 days later. We still may need to pay the interest on that loan if the grant will not allow interest reimbursement. That interest is estimated at $2077.
Supply chain issues affecting timely delivery of materials: We have no control over this factor. Axiom's aim is to acquire materials as soon as possible, in advance of when they are needed, to reduce the risk, but we cannot resolve supply issues.
Why does Somerville need a $300,000 line of credit for Broadband?
Consolidated Communications (CCI) requires proof of a line of credit (LOC) or surety bond in that amount for our number of poles when applying for an agreement with them. That agreement is required before we can submit our pole attachment requests. Therefore, having the LOC is required for us to proceed with the FTTH broadband network construction process.
Can I attend the Somerville Municipal Broadband Board meetings? Yes. For now, the board is meeting by Zoom, which you can call into or join by video chat. Meetings are announced in the paper and the Clerk's news email list which you can join by calling or emailing the Town Clerk. 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.
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 that many 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.
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!
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.
What will the network look like?
The design for Somerville's FTTP Broadband Network is available. Here is an updated 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.