“Howland board hears Otelco internet plans at Tuesday meeting” in Lincoln News

This story by Chris DeBeck appeared in the September 5, 2019 edition of the Lincoln News.

HOWLAND – Otelco is planning to invest at least $500,000 in town to increase internet speed to town residents, a pair of company officials explained to selectmen Tuesday night.

With additional help, including a grant from the ConnectME Authority, Otelco could partner with the town to bring fiber to all parts of the town, with community support needed to help make the town’s grant application more attractive, the officials told the board at Tuesday’s meeting.

It marked the third straight week that selectmen heard from a potential broadband internet provider as selectmen and the economic development committee seek to improve internet speed and service.

One advantage Otelco has is that it already has Howland customers and knows the area, noted Tracy Scheckel and Trevor Jones. That will reduce the need for planning and could lower some construction costs since Otelco equipment is already on poles in town, the pair explained.

Otelco is also planning to invest at least $500,000 to $530,000 to bring higher speed internet through an improved version of DSL, said Scheckel, Otelco’s marketing and public relations manager. This would be accomplished through what she called bringing fiber to the node, which would mean speeds of 25-50 Mbps in town, with about 95 percent of customers able to receive service.

The town could opt for town-wide “fiber to the premises” approach, where fiber would be built for all town buildings, at a cost of $20,000 to $30,000 per mile over 27 road miles, putting the total price of the project at about $1 million, Scheckel and Jones said on Tuesday.

If Howland opted for that route, Scheckel said she would apply for a ConnectME grant, which could bring about $250,000 if successful, though there would be no guarantee of a grant award, Scheckel explained.
That would leave the town having to fund $250,000 to $500,000 to provide a consistent service both uploading and downloading.

Community support would be a key element in pursuing the grant and for convincing residents that greater broadband internet service is needed, she added.

Otelco is working in nearby Alton and Argyle on similar projects, she said. Selectmen made no decision regarding broadband internet on Tuesday night. Also at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, the board denied an abatement request for one Water Street property owner, who sought a refund.

The owner pays a $39 minimum quarterly charge that is charged to all sewer customers with a stub on their property.

Another Water Street property owner, George Willett, asked selectmen to accept an easement on his property to work on a pipe. Town Manager David Lloyd and the board agreed that public equipment or town employees should not be working on private property.

The board also:

  • Agreed to the apparent low bid from Dead River of $2.0965 per gallon for 7,200 gallons of heating oil for the 2019-2020 winter season, pending confirmation of the quote.
  • Agreed to a value-added contract with E.J. Prescott for water and sewer parts for a one-year term. Howland will pay no money as a result of the contract, Lloyd explained.
  • And gave Howland Fire Chief Josh McNally to undercoat the town’s fire trucks and ambulances for $3,225.