South Portland’s plan to develop a citywide broadband network has attracted interest from five companies, according to economic development director William Mann.
The collaborative project to increase the availability of high-speed internet in the city has been planned for some time, Mann said, but the pandemic has shown just how necessary it is.
“Before the pandemic, everyone thought, ‘Well, that would be great,'” he said. “When the pandemic hit and meetings were held as virtual meetings… that was no longer desirable. It was a necessity. »
The goal of the project is to provide high-speed Internet access at competitive prices to all South Portland residents and businesses. With at least three ISPs operating on the citywide network, Mann said, that goal can be achieved by giving consumers a large number of providers to choose from.
“There really hasn’t been a lot of choice in most cases in our communities. In most communities in the state of Maine, there is only one provider,” he said.
Having a single provider allows this company to “dictate the level of service it offers and at what price,” he said.
Broadband provides a high-speed Internet connection, which under new federal legislation equates to a download speed of 100 megabits per second and an upload speed of 20 mpbs.
Download speeds are used for browsing the Internet, streaming movies, and downloading files. According to the FCC, browsing the Internet typically only requires 1 Mbps download speed and streaming HD video can require up to 8 Mbps. According to the FCC, students and home workers need 25 Mbps to simultaneously use applications such as browsers, phones, email, online chat programs and video conferencing.
Download speeds are used for sending messages, posting photos to social media, and streaming your own video and audio in conference calls, such as Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime.
The city is looking for “at least gigabit-level service,” Mann said, as higher internet speeds are needed to keep up with the ever-changing technology landscape. A gigabit is equal to 1000 megabits.
One of the internet service providers willing to help set up the city-wide network is Biddeford-based Great Works Internet, according to chairman and chief operating officer Kerem Durdag.
GWI, in partnership with Arctaris Impact Investors and the Maine Financial Authority, announced a separate plan late last month to build a broadband network in South Portland and four other communities. Work is expected to begin in the coming months on the network, which will cover approximately 5,900 homes and 500 businesses in South Portland.
“If you look at the total number of locals in South Portland, that would be a little over 50-55% of the city,” Durdag said in an interview with The Forecaster.
GWI will install a total of 240 miles of fiber optic cable along utility poles in South Portland and the other four communities. Fiber optic cables are capable of delivering higher speeds than traditional telephone cables and are now widely used for the Internet, cable television and telephones.
Once installed, residents in the coverage area who want GWI to be an Internet Service Provider can sign up for their service.
While Mann says he appreciates companies like GWI that make investments in the city “that benefit our residents,” he encourages vendors to work through the city’s bidding process.
“We hope that whoever invests will come to the city first,” he said. “Discuss the desires of the community and how there could be collaboration to advance the interests of all our citizens.”
Mann predicts that broadband Internet will take a similar path to mobile phone services.
“You had more suppliers, you had more choice, prices went down, more competition, and the highest levels of technology and service were available in the market,” he said.
“When you have a choice, the market pushes for service levels that are highly reliable, highly robust, and also highly competitive,” he said.
Although the city is not responsible for the providers operating on the proposed city-wide network, it will help lay the groundwork. Mann likened the relationship to that of the city and the Portland International Jetport. Much of the Jetport’s property, including the main runway, is in South Portland.
“We don’t operate the airlines, but we provide the place where they can operate,” he said. “We take care of the infrastructure so that it can land and take off planes, handle baggage and get passengers in and out safely.”
GWI participates in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides high-speed Internet access at a discounted price to eligible households. A household is eligible for a $30 per month reduction under the program if they have an income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. In 2022, a household of four earning $55,500 or less per year is eligible.
The City is currently reviewing the responses it received. Once the review process is complete, Mann says recommendations to city council will follow soon.
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