Georgetown Broadband Project
News, events and resources for the Georgetown Broadband project
- Arrowsic has been awarded the money to build a broadband project from the USDA
- Georgetown applied in April for funding from the same program
- We have put on hold other funding models that involves banks and town support pending word from the USDA
- We still intend to propose a broadband funding warrant for the 2020 town meeting when that is announced.
- We need your help! Here is what you can do.
Arrowsic Funding— USDA approved Arrowsic’s application for broadband funding in December 2019. The Arrowsic Select Board received a letter from the USDA offering $1.2 million grant/loan combination that will fund building fiber-based internet service to all residences.
Their select board is scheduled a special town meeting in January to accept the award which includes assuming responsibility for the debt. Like Georgetown, Arrowsic has never taken on any long-term debt. Of the 103 voters in attendance on January 22nd, 98 voted in the affirmative and 5 voted against. At the last Annual Town meeting in June,2019 there were 65 voters present and at the last Special Town Meeting approximately 30 voters attended.
Why not Georgetown in the first round? The award is from the same program we discussed prior to and at the 2019 town meeting. Less than two weeks before the deadline, USDA informed us that our joint group would not be able to apply as a new entity covering both towns but that only a single municipality or existing company could apply. The Arrowsic Select Board was already willing to both sign the application and provide a letter to the USDA outlining their willingness to guarantee the debt if the town approved it at a town meeting. So, Arrowsic applied and Georgetown did not.
As the months dragged on, our committee became less optimistic of a USDA award and turned our attention to alternate funding plans. We made considerable progress with local banks and discussed a financing plan that combined bank debt, limited grant money, contributions from ISPs, and private investment. Prior to the award, we planned on presenting to our select boards in January.
Georgetown Applies – USDA Reconnect Funding Program
There are many reasons for Georgetown to apply for the same program that Arrowsic won. This program, while not perfect, is the most cost-effective available and all signs point to more money from the USDA program for Maine. The support from our Senators, in particular, has been incredible. Our application will score stronger than Arrowsic because we have a school, an entrepreneurial base, local organizations that can provide supporting letters, and many local businesses, oystermen, clammers, and lobstermen which all count. In fact, we wrote the Arrowsic application in a way that anticipated Georgetown’s application and even included money to ensure fiber capacity to service Georgetown.
Georgetown members of the Broadband Committee met with the Selectboard January 14th, 2020 to review the options and steps needed to complete an application for the USDA program’s next round. The major change is that due to changes in the eligibility requirements, Georgetown can apply for the grant only program, not just the grant/loan program. For details, you can check out the presentation we made to the selectboard on the website here.
The Connect Maine Authority, part of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, has given Georgetown $290,000 for help with raising the matching funds should we get awarded the USDA grant. This would be the authority’s largest grant to date, and reflects their deep support for our project.
Ultimately, with the help of many people across town, Georgetown submitted an application for the USDA Reconnect Grant program in April, 2020.
The highlights are:
- The project will build a 100% fiber optic network covering every household in Georgetown with a planned connection to MacMahan Island.
- The total project cost is projected to be $3.5 million.
- 75% or $2.625 million of that cost would be covered by the USDA grant.
- 25% or $875,000 is the responsibility of Georgetown
- $290,000 will come from the ConnectME matching grant
- $585,000 will come from Georgetown, most likely from a bank loan.
In total only 17% of the project will be financed! We believe that the numbers show that with a reasonable number of subscribers at a market rate that the cash flow from the project will be sufficient to pay the debt service – translation: no increase in property taxes.
The USDA application closing date was pushed back to 4/31/2020 because of COVID. Awards are presumably sometime in summer/early fall. The timeline means we might be able to avoid a special town meeting to approve the award -we will do what we can to avoid a special town meeting.
BACK UP OPTION = ON HOLD– Capital from multiple sources
The project cost is $3 million. Prior to the announcement, we were modeling scenarios where between 50% and 75% of the project would come from long term bank debt and 25% to 50% comes from a combination of grants from state sources, private investment and possibly a town contribution.
What we now know is that the local banks have indicated they are interested in financing the project at reasonable terms– assuming the municipality is the borrower or at the very least the guarantor of the debt. In this scenario the interest rate is higher, the pool of private investors is uncertain, and the management complexity increases. But we believe there is a viable path to a funding plan that we could present for a town vote.
Our work over the next few months will be to prepare and submit the USDA application and review an alternate funding plan with you, the town. We would prepare a warrant that would include one or both options for approval at the June town meeting so we don’t lose any more time to build the project.
What can you do to help?
- Tell the Georgetown Select Board you support them doing what is necessary to support Broadband. WCall or email your select board representatives. – Geoff Birdsall, Rich Donaldson or Jon Collins.
- Review the material we provide and give us your feedback and questions. Sign up for the newsletter for additional updates!! Once COVID settles down we will schedule a series of in-person forums to discuss. We want you comfortable with what we are asking. It is also acceptable to corner Carlos at the transfer station.
- Raise your voice by sending us a letter of support – if you are a business, we want to hear from you. If you have schoolchildren who can’t study at home, we want to hear from you. If you are a town organization, speak up. If you want to work from home but have to do your work at Café Crème, we absolutely need to hear from you. An email or letter of any length is acceptable – just tell us your story.
- If you know someone who is uncertain of the need for broadband, let us know their concerns. We have many real-world examples of broadband benefits from across the state such as the VA’s video conferencing program for mental health, medical monitoring to cut down hospital visits, work at home opportunities, the positive aspects of connectivity for aging, lifting real estate values and rental demand, school kids not being able to take advantage of online learning at home, and more.
- Plan on attending the town meeting when it occurs It’s our job to give you all the information to convince you to vote yes, but none of it matters if you aren’t there to actually vote.
The National Anthem is over and the teams are taking the field. The goal of a wired Georgetown that is ready for the next 30 years is within reach and if we haven’t said it before thanks for all your support.
Georgetown Broadband Task Force
Carlos Barrionuevo, Peter Degnan, David Tudor
January 14 Update to Georgetown Selectboard
January 15 Arrowsic Special Town Meeting to accept USDA Award
January 31 USDA application window opens
March 16 Deadline to apply for USDA Funding
June 13 Georgetown Town Meeting – TO BE RESCHEDULED DUE TO COVID -19
1/15, 1/21, 1/29 Introduction to Computer – Free class by the National Digital Equity Center at GHS sponsored by Age Friendly Georgetown 11 AM to 1 PM