Maine Voices: Dedicated to Making Broadband Internet Universal in Maine

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The new year is full of resolutions, but one tops the list for Maine: high-speed internet access, also known as broadband. In a state with such a rural footprint, making high-speed broadband access a universal reality for all residents is perhaps our most important political priority in 2022.

Less than 50% of Mainers have true “broadband” or “broadband” Internet, with our state lagging behind the national average for the United States and the rest of New England. Proxima Studio / Shutterstock.com

Expanding access is the solution to a problem that has plagued Maine for decades. Here are the facts: Less than 50% of Mainers have true “high-speed” or “broadband” Internet, with our state lagging behind the national average for the United States and the rest of New England. People in rural areas are particularly likely to have insufficient broadband, and low-income households are further constrained by the lack of accessibility and reliability of service. Forty percent of Maine households earning less than $ 20,000 do not have broadband, compared to just 5% of households earning $ 75,000 or more. It is not a trend that we can afford to continue.

In total, more than 85,000 households in Maine do not have broadband access, by federal standards – and that number is only growing as our expectations catch up with our time. Federal standards – download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps were established over ten years ago, and broadband internet is even faster today.

This must change, especially in a world where online accessibility is more important than ever. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working, distance learning and telehealth are terms that have taken root in our way of life, and in ways never thought possible. They are now essential for participation in the modern economy. Ultimately, high-speed Internet access has the potential to dramatically improve quality for Eliot Mainers in Fort Kent.

As the new chairman of the new Maine Connectivity Authority, I took on the challenge of connecting all Maine to a more prosperous future. We can do it from here. Developed under bipartisan legislation and enacted by Governor Mills last year, the authority is designed to proactively and strategically ensure that broadband connectivity should be universally available. To that end, with the help of more than $ 250 million in federal funding, we are preparing to make significant investments statewide. We will close the gaps that have existed for a long time, maximizing partnerships to ensure that everyone can access and afford an Internet connection. This effort will be sustained for continued positive impact.

Of course, it’s a team effort. The authority’s board represents a wide range of expertise, working with the Mills administration, numerous offices and departments, and hundreds of stakeholders across the state. Broadband access will not be fixed overnight. This requires cooperation between the public and private sectors, both of which have important roles to play.

The work of the Maine Connectivity Authority will be organized into three focus areas. The first is that of “projects”, optimizing the deployment of broadband. The second is “places,” reaching the last mile in Maine. And the third is “the people,” advancing digital equity for all. For too long, Mainers have been forced to face an inequitable world, in which broadband access is determined by place of residence. Far too many places – urban and rural – have been left behind.

Not anymore. We cannot afford to leave people behind. Looking to the future, technology is not the end, but the means to increase connectivity and prosperity.

The challenge ahead is great, the opportunity unprecedented and the need at an all-time high. Let’s reverse an old Maine adage – “you can’t get it from here” – with a new one, “We can get it from here. “


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