ConnectME — Creating Connections

"As governor, my greatest opportunity is to unleash the potential of the people of Maine," said John Baldacci, and he continued to outline how broadband technology will allow anyone, anywhere in the state, the opportunity to earn a good income using the internet, unleashing Mainers’ potential.

By Ramona du Houx

Ever sat down at a computer ready to send important files over the Internet with a dial-up connection and had to wait a long time for the file to be sent? Or had to wait patiently for a Web-site connection to download?

The waiting is coming to an end with broadband — which sends and receives information over the Internet almost instantaneously. Broadband IT technology is fast, efficient, and is changing the face of business on the Internet, and around the globe.

"Broadband connectivity is, simply put, becoming a necessity, like telephone service before it, and electrification before that. Greater broadband access in Maine will have enormous ripple benefits in the state’s economy. Study after study has shown that rural businesses with broadband access do better than rural businesses without it," said Tom Federle, legal council to the governor.

The Small Business Administration conducted studies that show for every $1 of investment in broadband infrastructure, $5 is injected in to the local economy.

With broadband a wide variety of businesses benefit; marketing to the world becomes easily accessible. Health-care services are aided in dramatic ways. With broadband rural areas can get firsthand advice from leading doctors in specialized fields; telemedicine connects small health clinics with world-renowned health-care resources. Broadband access also bolsters educational opportunities, like earning a degree online.

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At the Swanville Town Office Governor Baldacci sent an e-mail using his new broadband e-mail account through Mainely Wired.

"Being remotely located has historically been a challenge to economic development. That no longer needs to be the case. In fact, IT can be a boon," said the governor.

"Maine is uniquely positioned to benefit. Our tourist economy will prosper if visitors can stay connected and thus stay longer. Business persons who love visiting Maine will see the opportunity of locating their businesses in Maine," said Federle. "A robust communications infrastructure in Maine has the potential to largely eliminate the disadvantages of being a remote state while leveraging the advantages of being a beautiful state with a high quality of life."

In the governor’s State of the State address in 2004, he outlined the first phase of ConnectME, where citizens were encouraged to contact the state and let them know if they had entered a "dead zone" (where cell phone connections weren’t working). A map was compiled from the information gathered to identify areas in need. With the governor’s recent law, LD 2080, those areas are now designated as ConnectME zones that can receive tax benefits to help facilitate the implementation of broadband.

"Connect ME will give nearly every Mainer the opportunity to plug into education opportunities, their government, and the global economy," said the governor.

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Governor Baldacci signs his broadband legislation.

Last June Governor Baldacci celebrated broadband connections coming to Swanville where he signed his legislation sponsored by Rep. Hannah Pingree, LD 2080 — An Act to Accelerate Private Investment in Maine’s Wireless and Broadband Infrastructure. Pingree has worked tirelessly to bring broadband services to rural Maine for as long as she has been a legislator.

The new law represents the collaboration between the state and communication service providers throughout Maine, including the Maine Internet Service Providers, the Telephone Association of Maine, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon.

"We are extremely happy to have formed this partnership," expressed Verizon’s CEO. "It’s far better to work with companies like Mainely Wired than to be in competition with them. No company can do it all. With the state’s help we’ve all been able to come together for the future of Maine."

Mainely Wired offers broadband Internet service to Swanville, and will be serving three counties, Somerset, Penobscot, and Kennebec. Peter Petersen, CEO of Mainely Wired, said they are offering their services free to Swanville’s town office and other town offices that find the technology currently is a financial burden.

Mainely Wired is in a ConnectME designated zone and is eligible for reimbursement for taxes paid on the purchase of machinery and equipment, because they are helping to advance Maine’s communications technology infrastructure.

"The governor’s strong support of the ConnectME initiative convinced me to start up Mainely Wired, come out of retirement, and continue to live in this great state," said Petersen who had been a research executive with Honeywell Int. "We were headed to Florida." Petersen said he was happier being able to be in business with his son and daughter.

"As I advanced this initiative over the past two years, entrepreneurs, such as the Petersens, have emerged with creative solutions to bring Broadband to hard-to-reach areas. It is always the people of Maine who solve the challenges of Maine. As governor, my greatest opportunity is to unleash the potential of the people of Maine," said Baldacci. "We, as a state, have unlimited potential. We have unparalleled natural beauty. We have tremendous quality of life. And with an advanced telecommunications network, we have the ability to thrive in the ‘flat’ global economy."

That "flat" global economy was identified in Thomas Friedman’s book and basically means that with IT technology anyone anywhere in the world can access a global economy, work form home, and compete internationally. Countries that want to advance in the world’s economy need to get "wired" and educate their citizens in the use of IT technology. With the governor’s ConnectME initiative Maine has opened its doors further to this new economy.

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"This is about not just me and you having opportunities to work in rural Maine, but also our children and grandchildren having those same opportunities," said the governor holding Peterus Van Ovebeke.

"The Petersens are members of the new economy in Maine," said the governor. "By bringing broadband connections to areas previously unserved, they are enabling other creative economy jobs to locate in the area."

Peterson’s daughter, Katrina Van Overbeke, was working in Minnesota for a children’s publisher and returned to Maine last summer to work by Internet for the Minnesota firm. "I would go online, check and respond to e-mails, then hang up and call people when I needed to," said Van Overbeke. Frustrated with the dial-up connections, she brought the problem to the attention of her family.

Her father took action and purchased MainelyWired, and now this family business is helping their neighbors reach around the world with their broadband internet services.

"The plan is to eventually move back to Maine and work for the family business," said Van Overbeke who has a fifteen-month-old son. "I think it is a model that is sorely needed in all rural areas of Maine, and one, if it proves successful, that can be replicated in other rural areas across the country. Since I have a family and have to pay a mortgage, I can’t work for my father for free. As soon as the company grows to a comfortable level and can support additional staff, you can bet I will be joining them full time. I think it’s a great thing for Maine and our family."

In just two and a half months of operation Mainely-Wired has 31 businesses plugged into their broadband system. From a real estate owner to a maritime insurer, the community they are serving is diverse and, as Petersen said, "now open to the world for business."

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The governor talks with the Petersen family, Peter and Tristan Petersen, and Katrina Van Ovebeke who has a 15-month-old son, Peterus. Peter started the broad band company — MainelyWired.

"We’ve created the incentives to make this happen," said Baldacci. "Here we have a local entrepreneur with his family-run business. This is how it’s supposed to work; to be able to work in Maine and raise your family in the best place in the world while earning a good income and enjoying the quality of life."

Because of the governor’s determination and focus to get Maine the best Internet infrastructure to compete in the global economy, other Internet companies have emerged, like Vines in Portland.

The secret to Vines is that instead of each company paying for investing in their own IT infrastructure, each Vines client uses a portion of the Vines data center capability. This allows them to purchase their information technology needs as an expense instead of making a major capital outlay. They can then use those capital dollars elsewhere in their business.

One Maine company using the Vines systems has grown from a small office of four employees to a national network of over 50 workers that work from their homes, just in the past 14 months. Another firm made a lasting impression on the power authority in China when Vines enabled an international collaboration platform.

"Vines customers use the collaborative systems in such diverse areas as energy management and insurance underwriting. We move the work to the worker. Not only can Maine knowledge workers receive and process work from around the globe, Maine businesses can avail themselves of scarce resources that may only be available in other parts of the U.S. or globally for that matter. Maine is a platform from which Mainers can ply their trade globally, while enjoying the beauty and culture of our home state," said David Lyall of Vines.

"We’re fortunate to have a forward-thinking administration in Augusta," said Barry Noble of Vines. "The governor gets the importance of IT."