Commentary

Hampden voters right to reject $4.5 million bond to establish municipal-owned broadband network

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This past election day, Mainers faced two contentious statewide ballot questions, but many local initiatives faced the scrutiny of voters as well.

Residents of Hampden, a town of around 7,500 near Bangor, were asked to weigh in on a proposal to bond $4.5 million dollars to build a government-owned network (GON) tasked with delivering fiber-optic broadband service to the town.

According to preliminary results from the Bangor Daily News, voters rejected the proposal, with 1407 voting “No” and 981 voting for it.

Maine Civic Action (MCA), a new sister organization of Maine Policy Institute, worked to reach voters through multiple channels and spread the word about the potential costs of adopting a GON in Hampden.

MCA’s campaign highlighted the dreadful track record of municipal GONs around the nation, the unintended consequences of potentially over-building infrastructure in a town currently served by eight internet service providers (ISPs), as well as the cost of the project beyond the initial $4.5 million sticker price. 

According to Broadband Now, only 200 Hampden internet consumers have access to only one provider. Internet service provider Charter has said that it only considers about 325 houses unserved. The company has also said that it will build out fiber-to-the-home infrastructure at no cost to the town in order to serve those residents.

Including interest, the bond would have cost nearly $7 million to add to the town’s existing $7.6 million debt.

In order to pay for itself in 20 years, the backers of the question estimated that the project would need to attract 938 customers annually. What would have happened if it didn’t meet that goal? How much more would Hampden taxpayers be on the hook for in the future? 

Thankfully, we won’t have to find out the answer because 59% of voters decided that the potential benefits of the project do not outweigh the costs.

As Maine towns and counties look for ways to spend their disbursements of federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act, local officials and voters should be wary of wasting it on unneeded government-owned internet service like those defeated in Hampden, but accepted in Knox County this summer.

About Nick Murray

Nick Murray, of Cornish, currently serves as Policy Analyst with Maine Policy Institute, writing, researching, and bringing Mainers together over the issues facing the state. Previously, he served as Outreach Coordinator, planning events to spread the word about Maine Policy's work to new audiences around Maine.

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