Workers with Marden Builders carry pipe to their worksite on greater Cuckolds island off Southport on Tuesday where they are converting a lighthouse into a high-end bed and breakfast. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

Voters in Southport chose to kill efforts to build a town-owned fiber-optic network Tuesday, also tossing out a rival proposal to have a cable company connect underserved residents.

It is a setback for officials in the town of just over 600, who had just a year ago secured support from residents to pursue bonding for a network and had already spent $653,000 on the project. Grant money, including a $400,000 state grant, will need to be returned, selectmen said in a May letter.

Opponents had accused town officials of putting too much money toward the project before determining how many people would be interested and questioned how many people would need to subscribe to the service in order for it to be viable. The dominant internet provider advocated against the question, something that is becoming a theme across Maine.

Voters seemed sympathetic to those arguments, ending the board’s ability to seek bonding for the project in a 144-129 vote, although it allows them to try to create a network with only grant funding. They also rejected a question in a 134-126 vote that would have let the town contract with Spectrum to connect about 10 percent of residents who do not have broadband that meets the state’s standard of high-speed internet, according to the town clerk’s office.

It essentially leaves the internet situation as it is in Southport. The project was one of several that has been focused on by outside groups critical of state and federal spending on building community-owned fiber networks. That group, the Alliance for Quality Broadband, has members including Spectrum’s parent company Charter Communications, which would be in competition to any publicly owned network.

A Maine chapter of that group blanketed the town with fliers a week prior to the vote. Campaign finance laws Southport has not opted into prevent the public from knowing how much the Alliance spent opposing the project, but Meta ad library records show it was much less of a focus than a project in Readfield voters defeated in May.