Later this month, Maine’s new broadband agency will submit its plan to the federal government to use $ 128 million to expand and improve high-speed Internet access across the state.
The Maine Connectivity Authority is only six months old, but the quasi-government agency already has $ 21 million in funding from the US bailout that Democrats in Congress passed earlier this year, and it will submit soon his proposal to the US Treasury Department. . to spend an additional $ 128 million.
Board chairman Tim Schneider told lawmakers on the Legislative Assembly’s energy and utilities committee on Wednesday that the agency was in the process of merging with the former ConnectMaine Authority, a small department which has spearheaded the expansion of broadband with a fraction of the money currently available.
“We were doing a lot with a little money, and our goal here now is to do a lot with a lot of money,” he said.
But there are rules for how Maine can spend it.
Schneider says the Treasury Department released guidance in October for the $ 128 million, which focuses on areas where residents are not served by broadband, or underserved, a designation currently defined as internet speeds. less than 100 megabits for downloading and 25 megabits for downloading.
The broadband agency has mapped areas of the state that do not meet these standards and they are extensive.
Some are concentrated in rural towns and others are in so-called “last mile” places where ISPs have found it uneconomic to expand service because there are too few customers. .
Some cities have sought to address this problem by creating their own networks, an initiative according to Schneider encouraged by federal government guidelines when applying for newly available funds.
“They explicitly call for public-private partnerships. And one of the great things about Maine is that we have a lot of examples of these types of public partnerships that sort of take the best capacity of local governments and private providers. and put them together to provide a service, ”says Schneider.
Public-private partnerships, also known as municipal broadband, are not always viewed favorably by existing providers.
In November, the town of Hampden rejected a municipal broadband initiative after lobbying Spectrum, a provider owned by multibillion-dollar telecommunications giant Charter Communications. A campaign by a conservative rights group bolstered Spectrum’s lobbying efforts, but the two failed to scuttle a municipal broadband initiative in Leeds last month.
Such fights could proliferate in the coming months as the broadband agency distributes millions of federal dollars.
And more is on the way.
The infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden enacted two weeks ago will bring an additional $ 100 million to the state.