Monday, July 18, 2022
“In today’s world, affordable high-speed Internet access is as fundamental as electricity, heat and water. If we want a strong economy and a prosperous state, we simply have to have it. – Governor Janet Mills
Since 2005, Maine has recognized the importance of adequate Internet service for everyday life and commerce, in both urban and rural areas of the state. On July 14, the US Treasury Department approved the state’s plan to connect 22,500 homes and businesses through Maine Infrastructure Ready.
The Digital Divide in Maine
In 2021, 93% of locations in Maine had access to 25/3 Mbps Internet service, but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inadequacy of 25/3 Mbps (or less) Internet service due to its inability to support all users of common network applications simultaneously. To meet the state’s broadband vision, in early 2021 the ConnectMaine Authority designated broadband service as 100/100 Mbps. While unserved areas were designated based on 50/10 Mbps availability, subsidy eligibility also applied in underserved areas. Unserved and underserved areas cover nearly 90% of the state. Only 55% of Maine residents subscribe to at least 25/3 Mbps Internet service.
Maine Broadband Programs
Maine has two similar but distinct broadband authorities: the ConnectMaine Authority (ConnectME) and the Maine Connectivity Authority.
In 2006, the Maine Legislature created ConnectME, within the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, to expand broadband – both connectivity and usage – statewide. ConnectME has run two grant programs: one provides support for community planning and a second focused on helping to build broadband infrastructure.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Janet Mills (D-ME) committed $5.6 million to the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds in partnership with private internet providers to establish permanent internet infrastructure for more of 730 students in rural Maine. The initiative builds on the Mills administration’s previous work to secure mobile hotspots and learning devices for nearly 24,000 Maine students after schools suspended classroom instruction and adopted distance learning.
In June 2021, Maine enacted legislation to establish the Maine Connectivity Authority, an entity responsible for ensuring the universal availability of high-speed broadband in Maine. The Maine Connectivity Authority has the ability to own physical infrastructure and manage partnerships, unlike ConnectME which is grant-driven.
Using U.S. bailout funds, the Maine Connectivity Authority will work to ensure three goals:
- Make efficient and accessible connectivity universally available in the State;
- Secure, affordable, reliable, competitive and sustainable infrastructure that is forward-looking to meet future needs; and
- To ensure that all Maine residents, businesses, and institutions can take full advantage of the economic, health, educational, and other opportunities available through connectivity services.
ConnectME Authority and Maine Connectivity Authority work together to:
- Share data and tools;
- Support the community of broadband advocates who support local broadband investment and engagement;
- Provide ongoing support to expand broadband availability through a consistent and transparent process and public offerings;
- Protect and maintain ConnectME’s revenue streams, which support ongoing work to expand broadband availability;
- Avoid disrupting the marketplace and ongoing grant programs, and ensure clear and joint communications with industry, state partners, existing staff, and Maine communities about future plans; and
- Maximize funds used to achieve Maine’s goals and minimize unnecessary or duplicate spending.
ConnectME offers grants and resources to support community readiness and actively continues to develop mapping platforms that will support prioritization of infrastructure funding and deployment across the state. ConnectME has successfully applied for and will oversee a $28 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program. The project will extend broadband access to nearly 15,000 subscriber locations in Maine.
Going forward, the Maine Connectivity Authority will lead the state’s efforts to bridge the digital divide with ConnectME playing a supporting role. On July 14, the US Treasury approved Maine’s plan to invest $110 million to connect 22,500 locations in the state. The Maine Connectivity Authority will oversee Maine Infrastructure Ready, a competitive broadband infrastructure grant program. The program will invest in qualified locations that can be served by line extensions of existing networks – or new networks – focusing on locations that currently do not have access to reliable wireline service at 100/20 Mbps speeds , including remote locations in Maine’s most rural counties. .
The networks supported by the Treasury Capital Projects Fund will be designed to provide Internet service with symmetrical 100/100 Mbps speeds to households and businesses at the end of the project. These broadband providers will participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, a $30/month subsidy for low-income families.
The $110 million represents 86% of the Maine Capital Projects Fund allocation. The state estimates the investment will serve 27% of sites that still lack high-speed Internet access in the state.
U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) is co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus and one of the primary authors of the legislative language that created the Capital Projects Fund in the American Rescue Plan Act, making it a priority in the pandemic. aid package that was passed by a vote in March 2020. Expanding broadband has been one of Senator King’s main goals since launching his Senate campaign in 2012, likening the effort to the process of transformation of rural electrification in the 20th century. As Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, Senator King has been a strong advocate for the expansion of affordable broadband access as a way to increase economic opportunity in rural Maine.
“This historic $110 million investment in broadband from the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund will make a meaningful difference for the people of our state, expanding economic prosperity, opening avenues for access to education and creating convenient ways to get essential services like health care,” said Senator King. . “Combined with the broadband provisions in the [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act], these funds will allow us to ensure that every person in Maine, regardless of where they live, can access this essential tool of the 21st century. My colleagues and I have worked hard to include the Capital Projects Fund in the US bailout, and I look forward to seeing how this funding will create valuable new opportunities for the people of Maine.
“For our people, our economy, and our future, high-speed internet must be available to everyone who wants one in Maine — and that’s why I’ve committed Maine to achieving that goal by the end of of 2024,” Governor Janet Mills said. . “Maine’s responsible use of these federal funds – developed by the Maine Connectivity Authority – will help us achieve this goal and make a real and positive difference in the lives of Maineans, especially those who live in our communities. rural. I am excited about this transformative opportunity, and thank the Treasury Department, Senator King and Congresswoman Pingree, and the Maine Connectivity Authority for helping to make this possible.
“These broadband investments through the US bailout will help lay the foundation to ensure that every American home and small business has access to affordable high-speed internet,” Assistant Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said. “Treasury applauds the work Maine is doing to bridge the digital divide and ensure that every community, including rural communities, has access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet.”
More in this series
US bailout fuels Virginia’s universal broadband efforts
Treasury Helps Broadband for All in Louisiana
Capital Projects Fund Aids West Virginia’s Billion-Dollar Broadband Strategy
Broadband is the future of New Hampshire
US Treasury Helps Accelerate Kansas Broadband Rollout
Treasury Capital Projects Fund Strengthens Maryland’s Network Infrastructure Grant Program