LD 1894, An Act To Support Municipal Broadband Infrastructure through Incentives and Competition, was signed into law by Governor Janet Mills. This legislation was introduced by Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc). The Maine State Chamber testified in opposition to LD 1894 at the public hearing. Since then, it 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 stating its concerns about municipal-owned broadband networks. The legislation promotes creating consumer-owned water and electric utilities to own and operate broadband networks, taking the operation of the networks away from the experts. Secondly, this legislation does not encourage public-private partnerships, which is, in the opinion of the Maine State Chamber, the best way to expand broadband. There was also nothing in the bill to protect against the overbuilding of infrastructure and networks that currently exist. As technology changes, broadband networks need the flexibility to adapt to new technologies and infrastructure. Ensuring that our broadband infrastructure is “future proof” is critical to its long-term benefits. As Maine is making investments now, it is critical to still be thinking about its future. In our opinion, the companies that are experts in this industry are 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 sought to improve the bill and address some of the concerns raised by the Maine State Chamber, the Public Advocate, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and other interested parties and businesses in the telecom industry. To highlight a few key points, the amendment requires 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 the 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’s 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 its charter before offering broadband, which requires legislative approval.
The Maine State Chamber appreciates the amendment and feels it makes significant improvements to the bill. However, the Chamber still has some concerns regarding municipal-owned broadband networks. We still think public-private partnerships are the best way to go. The Maine State Chamber has long been a supporter of broadband expansion and investment throughout Maine. In its 2018 Making Maine Work survey, one of the top issues indicated by businesses in Maine was the need for access to reliable broadband connection. In that same report, the Chamber called for $100 million of investment in broadband to Maine. We now have $250 million invested into Maine, and the Chamber remains committed to expanding broadband access. We hope that through public-private partnerships, the state can reach Gov. Janet Mills’ goal of every Mainer having high-speed internet by 2024. We need to be working with the municipalities, not competing against them.
For more information about broadband legislation, please contact Ben Lucas by calling (207) 623-4568, ext. 111, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.