ROCKPORT, Maine — Residents packed the Rockport Opera House and debated for 90 minutes Wednesday evening before rejecting a proposal to spend $300,000 for designing a high-speed internet system for the community.
The proposal had the unanimous backing of both the Select Board and town Budget Committee.
After the debate ended, however, residents rejected spending the money on a 92-59 tally.
Aaron Annis has said the broadband project was not just for now but for the future.
“I would like to have my business here some day,” Annis said, but that without high-speed internet, it would not happen.
He said other businesses also would pass on Rockport because of the lack of high-speed internet.
Debra Hall said she and her family returned to Rockport and have added to the economy but would not have been able to without having high-speed internet, which she was able to access because she was close enough to where high-speed is offered.
“We are a microcosm of what could be,” she said.
Teacher Margo Murphy said the internet is so slow in her area of town, particularly when neighbors are using the internet.
“I have to get up at [4 a.m.] to do work,” Murphy said.
But the majority of speakers and residents said the project was not needed.
Bill Freeman voiced opposition to the project, saying there were many higher priorities for the town to spend taxpayers money, listing a proposed new Camden-Rockport Middle School, a new library and a new vocational center.
He said spending money on high-speed internet so people could watch movies or play video games was not a good use of town money.
Bob Jackson also criticized the proposal saying that the town’s contention that the estimated $7.9 million cost of installing the broadband was a worst case scenario was not realistic.
“Have you heard of the Big Dig?” Jackson asked, saying the the true cost would not be done until the project was completed.
“The fat cats on the high end would save money at the cost to the impoverished,” he said.
A study issued last September by Tilson Technology estimated that the cost of extending fiber to every household and business in Rockport was $7.9 million.
The study maintained, however, that the economic benefits of the extension to the entire community would far exceed the costs.
When the Tilson report was issued last year, Rockport Town Manager Rick Bates said that when viewed in terms of other public utilities such as sewer, roads or water lines, constructing a broadband network to connect with the world is very affordable. He said a place such as Rockport already had quality of life locked up, but that people need to be able to work when they move to town.
In August 2014, broadband access was provided for the village through a joint project between the town and GWI.