Broadband Solution for Islesboro
The Broadband Committee presented information about the broadband system in a Town Information meeting 5/26/16. A handout document was provided at the meeting explaining the system, its costs, and how it will operate. The vote will be at the Annual Town Meeting on 6/18/2016.
The Broadband Committee will meet with small groups or individuals as requested up until the vote. June 13th-17th at 5 P.M. there will be drop-in discussions at the Community Center.
Broadband RFP is Closed
The RFP for an OPM is now closed. The related documents may be viewed here: www.townofislesboro.com/opmrfp
The RFP for construction is now closed. The related documents may be viewed here: www.townofislesboro.com/bbrfp
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Broadband Proposal?
The Committee is proposing that the town build a municipally owned broadband Internet access network that can deliver 1-gigabit service to every home and business on the island that chooses to subscribe. Subscribers pay $360 per year to the town for connectivity. An optional unlimited local-long distance phone plan is available for roughly $25/mo. including state and federal taxes. If you need service or support then you will call a 24-hr X 7-day telephone support service. If they can’t resolve the issue then a technician will be dispatched and get to you as soon as possible during regular weekly business hours.
The system will be operated under a contract with GWI of Biddeford, ME. GWI will support subscribers, maintain the town’s asset and train a group of on-island technicians able to solve most day-to-day issues and installations. Maintaining the system in good working order is the town’s responsibility. Thus service and support is generally provided to the subscriber at no charge. The other fees are explained below.
Who pays for the system and how?
To build the system the town needs to borrow up to $3.8M in 20year obligations, This amount will finance the construction and service installation at the 775 known premises on the island. If approved, on June 18th, construction can start almost immediately and it is expected that subscribers will have service in the spring and summer of 2017.
Once constructed, the town will operate the network as an Enterprise Fund, just like the Health Center. As such the town will collect your subscriber fees and pay the operating expenses. The fees are set to be affordable to all residents so as to make it as painless to subscribe as possible. This implies that taxpayers will subsidize some of the operating expenses with a town meeting approved subsidy. This is just like the operation of the Health Center where the fees do not cover all the yearly expenses. Thus also on June 18th, the voters will be asked to approve the 1st year of town budget spending ($230,000) to begin the operation of the network. This subsidy is expected to reach $441,000 in FY19 when the system is fully operational.
Is this a good deal for me?
Everyone is encouraged to compare their total cost of using the town broadband network to his or her current communications and satellite TV bills. The apples-apples comparison arithmetic is simple and requires that you include the added property taxes to your equations.
Yearly Subscription Fee $360.00
+ My Additional Property Taxes $?0.00
+ Optional Phone Plan $300.00
= Total Broadband Cost $?0.00
Our modeling shows that most properties on the island will pay less than a comparable benchmark of $85-$105 per month.
For example, it is estimated that the property tax burden in the first year of full operation will be roughly $96/yr. per $100,000 of valuation. This is $8/mo. Thus a $300,000 property valuation would pay $360+$300+$288 = $948/yr. or $79/mo. for broadband service.
People should also consider that they could save substantially more by ending their satellite TV subscription and using the broadband to stream their TV content. There are many options here, but the gist is that with streaming you pay for just the channels you watch. Channels can be acquired a la carte or in bundles. For example, Sling TV that is a subsidiary of Dish Networks offers a package or 30 typical cable channels for $20/mo. Consumer Reports and other news sources report that one can save roughly 50% by this streaming approach.
How can I sign up?
Assuming a positive vote, a subscriber signup period will commence just after July 1, 2016 and continue thru December 31st 2016. During this period you will be asked your intention to subscribe or not. There will be a Becoming an Islesboro Municipal Broadband Subscriber pamphlet that explains the details of the service and how to sign up.
Then when the service is brought to your area the installation will be scheduled. At this point you will have to pay your prorated yearly subscriber fee.
If you choose to subscribe then your installation will be at no charge. If you choose to pass on subscribing at this point you will incur a $600+ installation cost if/when you do choose to subscribe.
What about Installation?
On your scheduled installation day the technicians will first verify that your property is correctly prepared and that the installation is likely to be successful. If not they will explain issues to you and reschedule.
The installation entails connecting a fiber optic cable strand from the nearest segment of the fiber backbone to your premise adjacent to where your power and existing communications services attach. The service fiber can be aerial and/or buried in a conduit. However, if it is buried, it is your responsibility to have an open unobstructed 2” conduit ready to pull the strand thru. You can work with any number of island contractors to install such a conduit. (we are working with our contractor to see what opotions might be available for other conduit scenarios.)
An outdoor junction box will be attached to your premise and then the technicians will run a length of fiber from there to a nearby location inside your premise. It is at this inside location that you will need to have a typical 110v receptacle. The technicians will attach your town-owned Optical Network Terminal or ONT to the wall and then to your power. There is a small battery backup to keep the network up thru power failures.
If you choose the optional phone plan then the technicians will connect a wire from the ONT to your telephone wiring.
For premises with internal Ethernet there is an option of an outdoor ONT.
The town’s obligation will be to provide a working ONT. You are responsible for other wiring or signals needed to reach your computers, TVs, etc.
What Does the ONT provide?
The ONT provides a password protected Wi-Fi (latest AC standard) network as well as connectors for wired Ethernet and phone.
What about this phone service?
GWI will provide an optional local-long-distance phone service fro roughly $25/mo. including the state and federal taxes. You will be able to keep your 734 phone number and use your existing phone equipment.
Is this a reliable system?
The proposed network is a passive fiber-to-the-premise design. This design is in used in many US municipalities and across the world. They have proven to be reliable. They are passive in that there are no electronic components except in the central electronics building and the subscriber’s premise.
This means that each subscriber essentially has a fiber optic strand from his or her premise to the central electronics building adjacent to the town Hall. From there the system connects to the Internet via a high-speed high-capacity link running under the bay.
There are also three 1-gigabit wireless links that service subscribers on 700 Acre, Minot and Seal islands.
Are there other fees?
There are several other fees that you need to be aware of:
- Post Construction or New construction Installation - $600+
- Reconnection Fees - $100 for reconnection within 4 months and $300 for reconnection after 4 months.
- Late Fees - $25/mo. for late payments. Involuntary disconnection occurs after 2 months of non payment
- Service Fees – the town will provide subscribers a working ONT at your premise free of service charges. If you need support or service off hours or on weekends then there will be a labor charge for dispatching the technician. The telephone support center and technicians will have discretion to help with simple problems you have using the working ONT. However, if your issue is extensive then they may advise you that you are responsible for labor and materials. At that point you can choose to pay or not.
- Additional Services – as needs develop the town can offer other services using the broadband network. These will be priced and marketed separately.
What good is there to having 1-gigabit broadband?
The 1-gigabit service delivers more than enough broadband horsepower to allow residents and businesses to have multiple simultaneous Internet users using all the broadband opportunities:
- Web Browsing, E-Mail, e-Commerce, News & Information
- Entertainment & Streamed TV – Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chrome TV, etc.
- Island Businesses
- Education Courses
- Connect the Off-Island World
- Skype Friends & Relatives Family, Friends, Businesses
- In Home TeleHealth
In addition, subscribers will have the option to cut the cord with Satellite TV and save substantial money. This is because all the emerging streaming TV services are either free or charged on a per channel basis. You save because you are paying for the channels you actually use. In addition, several content provides are bundling typical cable TV channel packages for one-low monthly fee. www.slingtv.com is a terrific example. They offer 30+ channels for $20/mo.
What Happens If Electrical Power Fails?
There will be a generator keeping the Town’s fiber network and connection to the mainland running.
In addition there will be a battery backup for your ONT. Please note that this covers the network connection but not any additional gear that you may have connected such as TV, computer, wireless-phone, game box, etc. People can make their own choice about a standby generator, etc.
Is There A Subscriber Agreement?
Yes, subscribers will be asked to sign a subscription agreement that covers many subjects. For example, this service is for residential and small business use. The pricing does not provide for heavy commercial use of the system – this would have to be priced separately. There is no time commitment. You are free to cancel at any time. However, subscriber fees are non-refundable and reconnections will incur a fee.
Does This Mean That We Have Wi-Fi Across The Island?
No, but the town will offer public Wi-Fi at several locations – Town Hall, Ferry Landing, Big Tree, etc.
What About The School And Library?
Currently the School and Library have reasonable broadband service provided by a State legislative mandate. The proposed Town system does not impact what they are currently using. However, we are designing the system to support significant school and library bandwidth needs.
What About Network Neutrality?
The term Network Neutrality refers broadly to the ongoing public policy debate on whether Internet providers can charge for or otherwise throttle certain content providers in favor of paying content providers. Net Neutrality specifically refers to the position that all content providers should be treated equally. In contrast the nation’s Telephone and Cable providers are lobbying Congress to allow them to charge content providers for access to an Internet Fast Lane.
Both the Committee and GWI subscribe to the principle of preserving an Open and Neutral Internet - absolute Net Neutrality. We will write into the bylaws that our system is open and neutral to all content providers.
What About My Privacy Online?
Did We Consider Privately Funding This?
Yes, the Committee began our planning assuming that private investors would own this fiber infrastructure. However several significant things became clear after we sought legal advice on the potential corporate structure. First, a Town municipal bond will be significantly cheaper capital. Two, there are many significant tax benefits in Maine for a 100% municipal-owned communications infrastructure. Three, the group could model no business plan that would be low-price to the subscribers and return the capital to the investors in, say, 10 years.
What About Residents Who Need, But Cannot Afford A Difficult Installation Or Subscriber Fee?
The Committee feels that every island household should be connected. Early-decision Subscribers paying the yearly subscription fee will have an installation at no additional cost.
Even at these prices we understand that a few residents will not be able to afford connection. Further, all island households with school age children should be connected to allow access to modern education capabilities. We look to existing community organizations and/or private donations to help underwrite these needs.
What Happens After A Big Storm?
As we know there are times when the island pole lines come down. Our experience is that the fiber cable like telephone cable tends to be more resilient to breakage than the power lines. Small breaks in the line are expected and can be repaired by the on-island service contractors. Large breaks can be repaired by on-call off-island repair crews. The yearly operating budget provides for a few such events.
The Town will purchase disaster recovery insurance to cover significant storm damage requiring off-island contractors to repair.
How Long Will This System Last?
We have been told by Corning who will supply the fiber to anticipate that the physical fiber installation will last for 40 years before a major upgrade is needed. We have no way of knowing what such a replacement system would look like.
Technically the fiber infrastructure can deliver much higher speeds and capacity than 1gbps service if/when needed. Getting beyond 1-gigabit would entail an upgrade to the central electronics and the subscriber’s ONT. If this were needed, the capital expense would be put to the Town for a vote. We don’t anticipate such need in the foreseeable future but it is good to know it is possible.
What Does This Do For Cell Phone Service On The Island?
This proposal does not address the dark areas of the island cellular phone coverage. Our perception is that the cellular provider market, unlike the telephone and cable market, is working and investing to improve cell phone coverage in the Pen Bay region. If asked, our fiber backbone will allow for cellular providers to connect their local towers to our fiber in order to improve coverage.
Also, subscribers can consider devices to provide local cellular hot spots in their home to use a customer’s in home broadband connection to provide service.
How Does This Compare To Cellular Data Services Like 4G LTE From Verizon Or Red Zone?
4G LTE Cellular data services are available from all the major carriers, i.e., Verizon, ATT, Sprint, T-Mobile. These data services deliver 25-50mbps if there are not too many concurrent users in your zone relying on the data services at the same time. As concurrent use goes up throughput goes down because cellular data services share a fixed amount of capacity among all the users. For email and web browsing this is hardly noticeable, however for video streaming or video chat, it is often noticeable. These cellular carrier plans are typically priced on the amount of data consumed. They can become unexpectedly expensive.
Coverage of cellular voice and data service has been slowly improving on Islesboro though there are still some dark spots of coverage on the island. Thus some well-located residents are more than adequately served by their smartphones and cellular data plans for email and web browsing. We feel the Islesboro broadband offering is a better deal (cheaper, more reliable, faster) but this is a personal choice.
A Maine-based company, Red Zone Wireless has announced plans to deploy a 4G LTE wireless broadband network in Maine over the coming years. This is an innovative approach to reach the rural areas of our state that have little or no access to broadband. They utilize a wireless technology similar to that used by 4G equipped smart phones and uses existing cellular towers or requires local tower construction in order to deliver a signal. We understand that Red Zone has no plans to deploy towers on Islesboro over the next two to four years. Furthermore, wireless signals degrade over water. Without towers on the island, Islesboro residents will not be able to fully utilize the capability of this alternative offering. Their service is also limited by other technological considerations. To compare pricing: the Red Zone system provides up to 50 Mbps of throughput for $99/month for those few markets (Portland) that can get it. Our proposal is 500 for $75/month.
We have been aware of the Red Zone innovative approach and we think wireless systems like Red Zone have a place in connecting rural areas. Our opportunity is different in that we can build a faster, higher capacity, longer lived and more reliable infrastructure on Islesboro for a reasonable price and operate the system in a not-for-profit manner. The fiber optic technology proposed by the Committee will provide world-class bandwidth for decades. The 4G LTE technologies that support Red Zone’s offerings will likely be surpassed within five years.
Why Not Do What Rockport Is Doing And Stage The Build Out?
We considered this. What we discovered is that doing a staged build out is very costly. Rather, doing a single contract with a company who will send a team out to do the installation and continue until complete is the cheapest approach. This is especially true due to the costs of travel to the island.
Why Did You Pick GWI? I’ve Heard That Some Residents Have Not Had Good Luck With Their Support Services.
We are well aware of these issues and have spoken extensively to GWI about how to assure quality, timely support. A town employee will be named as the primary point of contact for non-technical subscriber issues. This person will work directly with a GWI counterpart to assure the quality delivery of service. In addition, we believe on-island support personnel GWI proposes in addition to their telephone support can improve the situation. We will continue to refine the support protocols. Also, frankly, GWI is a Maine-based company hiring Maine residents and we like that.
Why Not Wait For Google (And Others) To Deliver This Satellite Internet Connectivity Thing?
The Google space-based proposal (and others) is to deliver some connectivity to places on earth where no connectivity exists, i.e. Africa, the oceans. This is an ambitious undertaking.
Be aware that these space-based systems impart a noticeable delay between typing the name of a website and receiving the data. This is due to the 10s of thousands of miles that the signal travels from ground to satellite and back to ground and then the reverse. Those of us who have used, say HughesNet and other satellite services, can attest to how problematic this delay is. However, if you have no connectivity, it is wonderful.
What Do We Know About Internet Connectivity On The Island? Or, How Bad Is It On Islesboro Today?
Our survey showed that 72+% of island residents or businesses connect to the Internet with DSL or wireless links delivering about 3+/- mpbs downstream and just less than 1 mbps upstream. This is enough for email, casual web browsing and limited video streaming. It is barely adequate for video conferencing. It is inadequate for operating an Internet dependent business on island. Multi-user concurrent video streams are impossible. Yes, there are pockets where the speeds are higher & pockets where the speed is lower. Half of those surveyed said that they would be interested in buying faster speeds and/or better support.
Three major Internet access providers sell service to the island:
- Fairpoint DSL – 66+% of residents buy DSL service from Fairpoint. Typically 3+/-mbps – enough for Web, email and a single stream media download. However, limited upload capability impairs use by on-island businesses. The monthly price for this service is roughly $20-$70. Higher speeds up to 15 mbps are available in some locations and some locations are not served by DSL as of late 2014.
- GWI point-to-point wireless from the mainland is used by many residents to get 2-5mbps speed at $50-70 per month. Limited upload capability limits use by on-island business.
- Cell-phone data plans, like Verizon LTE. Used by some on the west side, but the carrier data plan rates can be eye-popping expensive if the connection is used for more than browsing and email. Also, many of these plans impose a cap on the total amount of data you can download.
- The situation is that Islesboro severely lags the nearby mainland in Broadband capability and this is in a state that ranks 49th of 50 in the USA for broadband access. The available speeds we have today given the older DSL-plant infrastructure on the island will soon not even meet the minimum US Federal definition of Broadband (25mbps). The State of Maine considers service less than 10 mbps each way to be “underserved”. Towns all over Maine in similar under-served markets are taking matters into their own hands. For example, Rockport has completed the 1st stage of construction of a similar Town-owned 1000 mbps fiber network – this is roughly 300 times the capability of what Islesboro residents have today.
- Regarding Support Services, residents will tell you that the quality is very poor. Unlike CMP who maintains an employee on the island, none of the incumbent providers can do more than schedule a truck toward the island on an irregular or weekly basis – service can be out for a week or more. This situation is unacceptable in a time when access to the Internet is a lifeline for many.
How Did This Recommendation Come About?
Since Roger’s 1996 talk on the Internet at the Historical Society many residents have felt the lack of competitive Broadband was an anchor on the economic vitality of the island and its summer community. There are many consequences of this situation. For example it limits the ability of students to get at the best modern education and it makes the island an increasingly unattractive place to live, work or visit. Over the years this triggered a series of meetings with the incumbent providers to see what quick fixes could be done. Few if any have produced results. Late in 2012 the situation and resident letters inspired the Board of Selectmen to act by forming a Committee to understand the problem and recommend a solution to the Town.
The Committee entered into a contract with Tilson Engineering of Portland to do a Broadband census of the island, outline the current mainland market and technologies and lay out a protocol to get to a recommendation. Generous private donations and a funding match from the Town technology budget underwrote this work. In the resulting report (late 2013) Tilson’s census showed the scope of the problem and how Islesboro could resolve it. Tilson recommended that any Islesboro Broadband solution should be a fiber-based network capable of 1000 mbps or 300 times what is available today. Such an infrastructure could support higher speeds as the technology of the end-point modems improves. This provided a framework for discussion with any potential Internet service providers.
The next step for the Committee was to engage Tilson in a second phase to poll roughly 22 Broadband vendors in a Request For Information or RFI process to specify the costs and solution to achieve the island’s Broadband three goals. Again, private donations and the Town jointly funded this. Three vendors responded by the deadline at the end of this past summer.
Each of the three vendor proposals was quite detailed and complete. The Committee and Tilson then interacted with the respondents to clarify the proposals and orchestrated a comparison. Many in-person and telephone meetings ensued.
Bearing this data in mind, the Committee decided to engage with GWI to flush out a business plan and details for an Islesboro-GWI joint undertaking. If that effort proved such a partnership could work and be sustainable, then this would be the group’s recommendation to the Town.
In October 2014 the Town signed a time-limited exclusivity agreement with GWI in order for the company, Tilson and the Committee to add significant detail to the capital costs and business model. This has resulted in a workable pro-forma business model that can be supported by adequate (50+/-%) residence and business subscriptions to the service. However the Committee went a step further and proposed that if the Town approved this then the Town should provide the absolute lowest cost Broadband service to ALL island residences and businesses from day 1.
Why Not Consider Fairpoint Or Timewarner Cable?
Fairpoint provided a very detailed proposal. Time Warner provided an overview of what they could provide. However both proposal responses require confidentiality in the disclosure of the details. That said, both proposals were deemed inferior for several reasons:
- The cost of all the proposals was consistent with the earlier Tilson estimates of the cost and consistent with the GWI proposal. The GWI proposal was the only one to include free installation.
- The GWI proposal is the only one to stipulate that the Town would have ownership of the infrastructure, a long-term performance guarantee, influence & control of pricing and service quality guarantees.
- The GWI proposal provides Support Services via telephone partnered with on-island personnel equipped with a bucket truck.
The GWI proposal was the only one to provide 1000 mbps speeds that we determined would serve the Town for several generations.
Can I Keep Fairpoint Or Other Services?
You will have complete control. You can keep your existing service providers if you like. Or you can try all new service providers. Or use any combination of old and new. Approving this broadband project doesn’t force you to do anything – it just opens a world of exceptional broadband options for you.
Should We Be The First To Build This Kind Of System?
We are not the first by any measure.
There are many fiber networks around the country with more being announced at an increasing rate. There are more than 450 mapped here: www.muninetworks.org/communitymap
There are many models of municipal networks. nextcenturycities.org/resources/
Rockport has a municipal network. So does South Portland.
If our Town follows through with the Broadband Committee’s proposed solution we might be the first small community in Maine to make sure Internet access is available to every property. We’re not focused on whether or not we’re the first. We’re committed to meeting the challenge of investing in our community when our community needs it just as we’ve always done in the past.
We’re doing this to serve our community members. To make sure our businesses can get access to the resources they need. To make sure our residents can participate in rapidly unfolding entertainment and communication opportunities. To make sure our students can learn to communicate with the tools and techniques they will need to survive and thrive. To make sure telemedicine will be available in the homes of our aging population. All of this is to enhance our ability to preserve the life style we cherish by maintaining and strengthening a vibrant year round community.
About Our Work
The Select Board kicked off this project in 2014 to access the island’s Internet access issues and recommend solutions. The core group of Roger, Page, Vern and Arch began the effort with help from Janet, our Town manager.
There have been three phases:
- Phase 1 was a study to identify our problem and potential solution. 2014-2015
- The resulting census and report provided us with the information necessary for us to begin serious dialog with Internet providers interested in helping solve our access problems. The conclusion was that we had unserved and underserved residents. We had spotty service and support and that we lagged the nearby mainland in terms of choices, price and no foreseeable scenario to have access to the FCC definition of minimum broadband service – 25mbps.
- Phase 2 - ask for proposals – early 2015.
- We asked for proposals from a variety of incumbent Internet service providers to determine which might have a proposal for us. We selected a proposal from GWI for the town to build the network infrastructure and that they operate it under contract to the town.
- Phase 3 – Design the System and Bid out the construction - Mid-2015 to early 2016
- On May 30th, 2015 voters approved spending $206,830 to fund the up-front work needed to get a firm construction bid for the Committee's proposal to build and operate a 1gpbs fiber Internet for all residents and business on the island. This one-time expense of $206,830 will pay for the engineering, design, consulting, legal and pole-attachment agreements needed to put the network construction out to bid. This work will be done over the summer and fall. It will yield a firm bid for construction costs, a GWI operating contract and business plan, subscriber data, pricing, etc. This is essential info voters need to make the final choice at a subsequent Town Meeting on a question to give the project a formal go/no-go decision.