Southport voters rescind authority for locally-owned broadband network

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Residents of Southport voted on June 28 to overturn approval for a fiber optic network owned by the town.

The question of whether to rescind the authority given to the town’s selectmen to seek funding for a municipally-owned fiber optic network at a May 7, 2021 was one of several that voters decided during the June 28 special town meeting.

Article 2 asked Southport voters whether the town should rescind the authority to seek funding for the municipal fiber optic network, whether the Board of Selectmen should be authorized to terminate existing contracts and liquidate personal or real property purchased for the project, and whether the Board of Selectmen should be prohibited from expending town funds for the construction or operation of a fiber optic network.

Southport residents voted 144 to 129 in favor of rescinding the selectboard’s authority.

Article 3 asked voters whether they wanted to authorize up to $1.5 million in general obligation bonds for the design, construction, and equipping of a municipally-owned fiber optic network, and whether the Board of Selectmen should be authorized to execute contracts related to building or operating the network or to accept grants from non-municipal sources for construction or operation of the network.

The town’s residents voted 144 to 123 against giving the selectmen that authority.

Article 4 asked voters whether the Board of Selectmen should have the authority to apply for grants to support either the construction of or connection to high speed internet services to properties the Maine Connectivity Authority’s standards have labeled “underserved.” The question also asked voters whether $60,000 should be taken from the town’s general fund to create a grant fund, which would be administered by the selectmen, and would offset the costs of a high-speed internet connection for properties in the town that currently have no hardwire broadband. 

The town’s residents voted 134 to 126 against giving the selectmen that authority.

After the May 7, 2021 vote approving the creation of a municipally-owned fiber optic network, the town’s Board of Selectmen voted on July 7, 2021 to accept a bid from Axiom, a Maine broadband provider, to develop the network. The contract was signed on July 28, 2021 and the town received roughly $63,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the project on September 30, 2021. 

On April 13, 2022 the town received petitions from four residents asking that work on the network be ceased and that funds be allocated only to properties underserved by existing internet service providers.

On April 27, 2022 the town was awarded $400,000 by ConnectMaine for the construction of the network. 

The following month, on May 18, the town held a public hearing to discuss the articles which were voted on during the June 28 meeting.

According to the town’s website, approximately $653,000 has been spent on the fiber optic project so far, a number which includes planned material costs and unexpected legal costs. Those funds are nonrefundable. 
If the network had been completed, the town estimated it would have grossed $30 per month for each subscription to the network.

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