THORNDIKE — Fewer than 20 Thorndike residents, gathered at a special town meeting Oct. 20, approved an article allowing the town to partner with UniTel to apply for grant funds to install fiber-optic cable along the remaining 25 miles of town roads that do not have them.

Residents also approved funding to pay off the salt and sand shed land and accepted amendments to the General Assistance Ordinance based on guidelines from the state.

The town will spend a total of $100,000 in funds from the county and the American Rescue Plan Act if a grant is awarded, according to the Select Board. The town and UniTel will hire a grant writer to submit applications to as many as four government programs, UniTel Director of Network Operations Michael Akers said.

The overall project cost is about $500,000, he said. UniTel will match the town’s $100,000 and the two will be seeking about $300,000 in grant funding, Select Board Member Charles Greenberg said.

Akers said the cost to place fiber is about $3.04 per foot. It is another $850 to install cable into a home, for which the company will not charge customers unless they have a long driveway. Because the company already has rights to all the poles and has electrical fixtures on the poles to do the project, the average project cost will be just $17,000 per mile rather than the average $35,000 it costs to do a project like this from scratch, he said. Fifteen miles of town roads have been wired with fiber-optic cables so far, he said, but the company wants to cover the rest of the town to expand internet access.

Right now, residents are getting anywhere from 2 megabytes per second to 10 megabytes per second of internet speed, he said. The expansion would give residents access to 1 gigabyte per second of internet speed.

Residents did not appear to oppose the project, but were concerned about where the funding would go if grants were not issued. If the project does not get approved for any grants, the town will keep the $100,000, excluding about $1,000 for the grant writer, Akers said. UniTel will still expand its fiber-optic network in town, but will not be able to complete all 25 miles of road that still need them.

Select Board member Jeff Trafton spoke in favor of the project in the hope that having fiber-optic cables throughout the town could attract prospective businesses and residents who need to work from home. He said Thorndike lost over 100 residents in the last 10 years, according to 2020 Census data. “So, that just puts more of a burden on the rest of us living here paying taxes,” he said. “So, if we can draw more people in with fiber-optic cables or internet service is a big draw.”

Select Board member Doreen Berry said the project was the board’s idea. “The Select Board approached UniTel. UniTel did not approach us, this is something that your Select Board has reviewed and we are suggesting.”

In other business, residents agreed to pay $30,000 from tax-acquired property funds and the Farwell fund to Robert Nelson. The town is building its new salt and sand shed on the Mill Road property it bought from Nelson. With the payment he is paid in full, according to Berry.

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