Baileyville Residential Fiber Optic Internet Heads to Public Town Meeting August 28th, Calais in September

By Lura Jackson

The residents of Calais and Baileyville will soon have access to dramatically faster internet speeds – provided both municipalities Public Town Meeting vote positive on this proposal. The municipalities have been working together via Downeast Economic Development Corporation (DEDC) on a plan to extend the existing fiber optic network to residences and businesses with a goal of enabling steady download and upload speeds for anyone that desires to participate. With initial studies completed, the municipalities have reached the point of requiring public input via referendum, the first of which will be held in Baileyville on August 28th and the second of which will be in Calais in mid-September.

For most residents in either area, the fastest internet speeds that can be reliably obtained are 15 megabytes per second for downloading and 5 megabytes per second for uploading. While providers like Spectrum do offer much faster speeds for those willing to pay for it, that service is only available to businesses. With the new fiber optic network in place, residents will be able to consistently reach around 50 megabytes per second in both download and upload speeds, if not faster. Some fiber optic networks can reach 500 megabytes per second or more. 

Having faster internet is a requirement for families that have multiple devices streaming movies, games or music. “They’ve found lately that it’s families that want to cut the cable,” said Calais City Manager Jim Porter, referring to how consumers are moving away from traditional services like cable television. “[Fiber would let you] watch anything you want, download anything you want, upload anything you want. You’re actually going to have a strand of fiber to your house, and that’s unheard of in this area.” The nearest municipality to offer fiber connections to its residents is Houlton. 

With an activated fiber optic network, both Calais and Baileyville will be more attractive for prospective residents and employers. “It’s not just traditional employers that expect such a service,” says Julie Jordan, Director of Downeast Economic Development. “Telecommuters, seasonal residents, young people and in-home entrepreneurs expect and demand fast broadband.  If we are to attract these segments of the population to our communities, we need to have fiber as part of our infrastructure.” Jordan goes on to note that fiber is the backbone of telemedicine practices that support and encourage in-home aging and can truly help rural communities to stay competitive with suburban and urban areas.

“Among a number of positive attributes, the fiber project can help both Baileyville and Calais reduce the degree to which we are seen as disconnected,” said Baileyville Town Manager Rick Bronson. “One of the bigger problems this community suffers is the perception that we are just disconnected from the rest of the world.  By having a really modern communications infrastructure we can be more connected, thus less disconnected.”

The municipalities themselves won’t act as providers, but will instead make the fiber available for providers to use. “One of the benefits of this type of business model is that it will allow for an open access network,” said 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,” says Jordan. The potential providers include Axiom, GWI, OTT Communications, Fairpoint, Spectrum and Pioneer.

“The providers will determine the fee, but we envision about $55 a month,” said Porter. Porter added that there will be an additional hookup fee for each house, but the charge will likely be spread out through installments as part of the monthly bill. 

If the proposal does pass in both municipalities, then at some point next year residents in the high-demand areas of each municipality will start to gain access to the network. Access will be granted while the network is being built, so if a street such as Washington Street in Calais is connected first, then residents along it will be able to use it immediately. 

The cost of the project is anticipated to be $2.5 million between both municipalities, which is why a referendum is required. The revenues from leasing the fiber will offset the cost of ongoing maintenance and the initial fee. “The taxpayers of each community should see no change in their respective tax bills,” said Jordan.

“The local governments of Calais and Baileyville should be recognized and commended for their support of this initiative and for their efforts to position their respective towns for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” said Jordan.  “We have an opportunity to set the standard and example for other towns throughout the state.”

“We think it’s a good thing,” affirmed Porter. “For young families looking to move to Maine, there’s a lot of possibilities, including more and more urban, but they’re not going to choose a rural area that’s disconnected.”