LD 2021 provides funding to ConnectME to fund broadband infrastructure
On January 28, 2020, a bill from Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, to invest in high-speed reliable internet received a public hearing before the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. The bill – LD 2021, An Act To Provide Funding for Broadband Internet Infrastructure in Unserved and Underserved Areas – would provide $15 million to ConnectME Authority.
“High-speed, reliable internet cannot and should not be a luxury in this day and age. It’s essential for Maine students to get a quality education and compete in the workforce, and for businesses to grow and fully compete in the market,” said Sen. Herbig. “The lack of high-speed internet in rural Maine continues to serve as an incredible barrier to our communities and economy. Maine students, families and business owners are counting on us to invest in broadband infrastructure. We cannot let them down or let them fall behind in today’s economy.”
In New England, Maine ranks last in the region in terms of access to high-speed internet. according to latest census data. This funding will allow ConnectME to provide competitive broadband infrastructure grants to underserved communities in Maine
“Years ago, inventions like cars, phones, and electric lights revolutionized modern life, but they required investment in the infrastructure to make them work,” said Rep. Tina Riley, D-Jay, a cosponsor of the bill. “Because our parents and grandparents built roads and strung wires, our economy grew and our standard of living skyrocketed. The utility of today is broadband. If we do not invest in building its infrastructure, Maine will be left behind in the global economy, and our children will pay the price.”
ConnectME is the state agency charged with getting the entire state connected to high-speed, reliable internet. According to their 2020 Broadband Action Plan, an estimated 50 percent of roadways or 17,660 miles are considered underserved. ConnectME’s 2020 Broadband Action Plan is available online at www.maine.gov/connectme.
“Every single day of our life, the internet is tied to our farm. The speed and service that we experience on our farm is extremely lacking. Most days we’re struggling to get online at appropriate hours to be doing this billing, to be doing this research,” said Jim Buckle, owner of the Buckle Farm in Unity. “We work long days as it is, and spending late nights waiting for the speed to come up just isn’t acceptable anymore. It’s expensive; farms are on tight budgets. For the speed we’re getting and the amount of money we’re paying, it’s just not equal.”
This state funding would help leverage private and federal funds to facilitate the construction of broadband infrastructure projects. The state funding essentially serves as seed money to help communities get their projects off the ground. Currently, there are more than 100 communities that have done the planning and are waiting for a broadband infrastructure grant.
“The City of Belfast has clearly realized the need for better internet speed for the entire city. They recognize that it affects so many aspects of daily life from both a community and economic development perspective. They’ve endorsed a vision to provide affordable, high-speed internet and make it available to everyone in Belfast, both businesses and residents,” said Thomas Kitteridge, Economic Development Director for the City of Belfast. “While the City of Belfast is likely prepared to spend considerable property tax dollars on broadband infrastructure, we’re hoping we can partner with the state of Maine on a funding source that would be provided through the legislation that is proposed today.
The bill drew support from a wide variety of organizations from the Maine Municipal Association and the Maine Chamber of Commerce, to the Maine Farmland Trust, the University of Maine System, and the Community College System.
LD 2021 will undergo additional work sessions in the committee.