Cumberland County is in the process of creating a playbook that communities could use to develop their own municipal broadband internet networks.

The county issued a request for proposals Wednesday for a community broadband study that would cost up to $25,000, funded by a federal Community Development Block Grant. A handful of potential bidders already have expressed interest in performing the study, according to a spokesman.

The purpose of the study is to create a set of guidelines for communities that want to build their own broadband networks in collaboration with neighboring cities and towns, said Cumberland County Director of Public Affairs Travis Kennedy.

“We want to deliver a model to develop a regional utility,” Kennedy said.

According to the request for proposals, several Cumberland County municipalities suffer from a lack of access to affordable high-speed internet service. Even residents living along major arteries in the county have reported that they can’t access acceptable internet speeds for home and business use.

“These towns have come to accept that a private-sector solution is unlikely, and so they are exploring municipal investment,” it says.

The problem Cumberland County is trying to solve is that building a municipal broadband network is risky, expensive and complicated, especially if a town tries to go it alone.

“An individual community venturing into the world of municipal broadband will run into countless roadblocks: from absorbing the cost of construction and maintenance, to the complexity of make-ready negotiations, to establishing service contracts, to the question of whether usage rates will support the investment long term,” the request says. “A combination of these barriers – risk, cost and complexity – can stop a municipally supported broadband project in its tracks.”

That’s why the county is seeking guidance from experts who can explain the full range of options for structuring and funding a regional broadband network and how to avoid pitfalls, Kennedy said. The project also will involve surveying residents to gauge which areas of the county have the highest demand for such a network.

One proposed project that the county is particularly interested in is a broadband network that would connect from Portland to Falmouth through the islands of Casco Bay. The islands could receive high-speed service via concentrated microwave beaming or by contracting with privately owned fiber-optic networks already in place.

But the purpose of the study is not to tell municipalities how they should go about implementing their own community broadband projects, Kennedy said. Instead, county officials want to create a document that provides general guidance that would be useful for a variety of different project types.

“We don’t want to go to the communities and tell them how to do it,” he said. “We want to give them options.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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