CHINA – A town committee is considering options for expanding high-speed internet access for residents after voters last month rejected a $5.6 million bond for a fiber optic buildout.

Ideas under review by the broadband committee include a wireless 4G/5G solution, partnering with other towns for grant applications, using a privately funded bond and partnering with Consolidated Communications or Spectrum to expand the fiber infrastructure in town.

The committee had to go back to the drawing board after voters turned down the bond that would have funded the majority of a fiber buildout in town in partnership with Machias-based Axiom Technologies.

“Fiber to every home is the ideal,” committee Chairman Bob O’Connor said. “You get a better signal and better reliability.”

Axiom is still in talks with the committee about possibly using private money to obtain a bond for the fiber optic buildout, but this would give the town less control over the infrastructure in town, O’Connor said.

An agreement with Axiom had stipulated the town get at least 830 households to sign up for broadband, and then half of the subscriber fees would have gone toward paying back the town’s bond.

China is also looking into joining one of the broadband coalitions that have formed elsewhere in Maine, such as the Southwestern Waldo Broadband Coalition, which includes Freedom, Liberty, Montville, Palermo and Searsmont.

Joining one of these groups would increase the likelihood of receiving federal and state money and defray the cost of the broadband infrastructure, O’Connor said.

Another coalition in central Maine is the Western Kennebec Lakes Community Broadband Asso­ciation, which covers Fayette, Leeds, Mount Vernon, Readfield, Vienna and Wayne.

The China Select Board recently heard a presentation from Portland-based Wireless Partners. CEO Bob Parsloe said the company relies on 4G or 5G cellular towers to provide wireless internet access to homes.

He said speeds are typically 25 megabits per second to download content and 3 megabits per second to upload material. New cell towers would have to be built in the area to increase speeds, he said.

Internet service providers use megabits per second to measure both download and upload speeds.

The Connect Maine Authority is now defining broadband as speeds of 100 megabits per second for downloads and uploads. This would be the required buildout speed for any projects funded by ConnectME grants. The ConnectME Authority was established in 2006 by then-Gov. John E. Baldacci and the state Legislature to promote broadband and cellular infrastructure.

Earlier this year, the state also established the Maine Connectivity Authority, which will be distributing federal broadband funds based on the federal government’s definition of broadband. The Federal Communications Commission defines broadband as 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 megabits per second to upload, but there has been discussion about increasing this metric.

Wireless Partners is expected to conduct an assessment — at no cost to the town — to gauge the need and desire for the kind of wireless internet service the company offers. As technology progresses, Parsloe said the internet speeds will increase.

O’Connor said he sees this as a potential solution to fill in the gaps in remote areas where it is more expensive to run fiber, but he does not see it as a final solution for the town.

There is also the possibility China could partner with Consolidated Communications, which now provides telephone service and DSL internet to about 20% of the town, or Spectrum, which provides internet to about 70% of the town and offers television service.

To meet ConnectME’s definition of broadband, however, either company would have to agree to run fiber optic cable throughout the town, because those speeds cannot be achieved with the current infrastructure.

The China broadband committee is scheduled to meet with representatives of Spectrum at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 9, at the portable classroom across from the Town Office at 571 Lakeview Drive.

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