On Tuesday, voters in the 600-person town of Southport, ME will decide whether officials can move forward with a $2 million town-owned fiber network project. Bangor News Daily reported that telcos are lobbying against the network, and there’s no transparency regarding how much is being spent to rally opposition.
Residents of the small town have seen mailers and digital ads linked to Spectrum, aiming to cut off local competition, a.k.a. a town-owned fiber network. According to the Daily, spending on the issue does not have to be disclosed because of a campaign finance loophole as Southport’s population falls below the 15,000 mark. This means voters cannot know how much a business-aligned group, like Spectrum, is spending to defeat the project.
Nick Battista, the chief policy officer on broadband for the Island Institute, a nonprofit that has been following the Southport discussions, is concerned about some of the communication residents have received. “There are corporate interests associated with some of these efforts that stand to benefit financially and that can be obscured through another entity,” he said.
For example, residents received a flier stating the town’s project was “risky” and could affect spending on other local services like road maintenance. The advertisement noted that an “existing provider” has offered to connect the 10 percent of residents who do not have high-speed internet. The flier fails to mention that its distributor – the Alliance for Quality Broadband Maine – is linked to Charter Communications, the parent company of Spectrum. The Daily reported that Charter has also lobbied against these types of homegrown broadband projects in other towns.
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