Last week, LD 1894, An Act To Support Municipal Broadband Infrastructure through Incentives and Competition, passed both the Maine State Senate and the Maine House of Representatives, it now heads to the Governor’s desk to be signed. Introduced by Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc), the proposal has been amended a couple of times, and while the Maine State Chamber still has concerns with the final product, it is better than when it was first introduced.
The Maine State Chamber opposed this bill at its public hearing earlier in the session stating our concerns about municipal-owned broadband networks. The legislation promotes creating consumer-owned water and electric utilities to own and operate broadband networks. This takes the operation of the networks out of the hands of the experts.
Secondly, this legislation does not encourage public-private partnerships, which is the best way to expand broadband in the Chamber’s opinion and does not contain measures to protect against the overbuilding of infrastructure and networks that currently exists. As technology changes, broadband networks will need the flexibility to adapt to new technologies and infrastructure. Making sure our broadband infrastructure is “future proof” is critical to its long-term benefits. As we make investments now, it is critical to still be thinking about the future. In our opinion, the companies that are experts will be best able to adapt to these changes much more efficiently than municipal-owned networks, which will run the risk of having to increase rates to reach the demands.
The amendment released by Sen. Vitelli seeks to improve the bill and address some of the concerns raised by the Chamber, the Public Advocate, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and other interested parties and businesses in the telecom industry. To highlight a few points of the amendment, it would require that if a municipal utility district wanted to own and operate a broadband network, it must register with the PUC before doing so. This would allow to PUC to examine whether it is in the best interest for a consumer-owned utility to do this.
The amendment would also require rulemaking and changing of a utility charter. The ConnectMaine Authority, in consultation with the Public Utilities Commission and the Office of the Public Advocate, shall develop standard charter provisions that may be utilized by a water district to help it develop a legislative proposal to amend its charter to operate broadband or other internet access systems or to provide broadband or other Internet access services to the public. Once developed, the authority shall make the standard charter provisions available to the public and may assist water districts to adapt the standard charter provisions to address the needs of the water district. It also would require the utility to amend their charter before offering broadband, which requires legislative approval.
The Maine State Chamber appreciates the amendment and feel it makes significant improvements to the bill. However, the Chamber still has some concerns over municipal-owned broadband networks. We still think public-private partnerships are the best way to accomplish this. The Maine State Chamber has long been a supporter of broadband expansion and investment into Maine. In our 2018 Making Maine Work survey, one of the top issues for businesses in Maine was the need for access to reliable broadband connection. In that same report, the Maine State Chamber called for $100 million of investment in broadband to Maine. We now have $250 million invested into Maine, and the Chamber is still committed to expanding broadband access. We believe that, through public-private partnerships, Maine can reach Gov. Janet Mills’ goal of every Mainer having high-speed internet by 2024.
For additional information or questions, please contact Ben Lucas, government relations specialist, by calling (207) 623-4568, ext. 111, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.