Caribou City Council hears latest broadband expansion proposal from Spectrum

2 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou city councilors continued to explore their broadband expansion options Monday with a presentation from Charter Communications, the company that provides internet services under the Spectrum brand.

Since announcing plans for an American Rescue Plan Act-funded broadband study last year, the council has heard proposals from several internet companies looking to partner with the city. All companies have promised to invest in a “fiber-to-the-premises” project that would construct and expand dark fiber connections throughout the city, including in more rural areas.

Melinda Kinney, regional senior director for Spectrum, told councilors that the company would expect to construct 74.5 miles of dark fiber to at least 294 unserved homes. They would initially focus on fully unserved regions of Caribou but look for opportunities to upgrade current customers’ internet speeds in the future.

The project would cost a total of $1.4 million, with the city contributing $857,133 and Spectrum contributing $600,000. If Caribou chose Spectrum, the fiber installation would take at least 12 to 18 months to complete, Kinney said.

Caribou has a franchise agreement with Spectrum for cable TV coverage that dates back to 1981 when the company was Time Warner Cable. The agreement has been renewed every 10 to 15 years since then.

Although Spectrum provides internet coverage to 4,474 homes and businesses in Caribou, the city has not formally partnered with the company for internet services. Councilors have not yet decided which company they will partner with for a dark fiber expansion.

Previously, councilors heard proposals from Consolidated Communications and Pioneer Broadband, the latter of which is partnering with Caribou’s Business Investment Group for the ARPA-funded study. 

Pioneer is also working with the Caribou Utilities District on a dark fiber network that the CUD plans to construct regardless of whether the city contributes financially. During a previous meeting, City Mayor Jody Smith read a resolution from the council that endorses the CUD’s project.

During the March 14 meeting, Councilor John Morrill asked Kinney if Spectrum would assist the city with finding grants and other funding to reduce their financial contribution.  

He referred to potential funding from the ConnectMaine Authority and the Maine Connectivity Authority. The latter was established in 2021 as a quasi-government agency to bring universal broadband to the state.

“We would need to have a conversation with the city on what funding you’d want to pursue,” Kinney said. “There are many new funding opportunities out there, including the [Aroostook] County ARPA funds.”

Spectrum is working with 80 communities across Maine on similar broadband expansions, Kinney said. Since ConnectMaine was established in 2006, she said, Spectrum has helped 14 communities secure that authority’s funding for 1,456 unserved locations.

Councilor Lou Willey, who joined the meeting via Zoom, questioned whether Spectrum’s dark fiber would expand to all remote areas of the city.

“I live on a dead-end road and I was told by Spectrum that they would never run cable on that road,” Willey said.

Kinney said that if the city chose Spectrum, they would review lists of addresses to ensure that no household or business gets left out of the dark fiber expansion.

“If you want to provide an address, we’ll make sure it gets on the list,” Kinney said. “Expanding into these unserved regions is exactly what these new state and federal funds are for.”

In other business, the city council held its first public hearing for the proposed 2022 municipal budget. No members of the public commented on the budget, which represents a 5.5 percent increase from $9.6 million to $10 million.

The council will hold a special budget meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 21, in the council chambers, located in the Caribou Municipal Building at 25 High St.

The next regular council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, March 28, also in the council chambers.

CARIBOU, Maine — March 14, 2022 — City Councilor John Morrill (left) asks questions about Spectrum’s proposed broadband plans while City Mayor Jody Smith (middle) and Councilor Joan Theriault look on. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)