ConnectME Authority Announces Third Round of Broadband Expansion Grants

By Ramona du Houx - May 5th, 2009 · 

Governor John E. Baldacci and the ConnectME Authority recently announced the third grant round of the broadband expansion funding program. The Authority is looking for creative solutions for expanding affordable broadband service to the unserved areas of Maine.

More than $1 million is expected to be available. The grants will continue to be targeted to areas of the State that have no form of broadband or terrestrial high-speed Internet service available. Eligible applicants are municipalities, co-ops, community groups and broadband service providers.

“My Administration and the Maine State Legislature recognize the importance of making broadband services available throughout our entire State,” said Governor Baldacci. “Future economic opportunities depend on our ability to have these services affordable and available to all residents of Maine. While many providers have made great strides in most parts of the State, we must seek ways to encourage development in all of our unserved areas.”

For this round, the Authority is requesting smaller, more focused proposals than in previous grant rounds, with a suggested grant limit for each project of $100,000, funding no more than 50 percent of the total project, while recognizing the need for flexibility for exceptional proposals.

Legislation creating the ConnectME Authority provides for funding from a 0.25 percent surcharge on instate communications services. Due to the limited funding, interested applicants are asked to submit brief, pre-application letters describing a project or projects by June 1, 2009. These letters will be shared with existing or incumbent broadband service providers for review, serving two purposes: first, to ensure that the area proposed to be served by the proposed project is an unserved area with no broadband expansion projects planned by other providers in the near term; second, to encourage collaboration between providers or other grant applicants that might enable a partnership to provide broadband service more widely or to avoid overlap.

Applicants are encouraged to find partners among the various providers of broadband services or community-based organizations to use the grants as seed money to get operational infrastructure installed. The amount of local public and private funding will be considered when reviewing the full applications.

Applicants should also be aware of federal funds from the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” that may be available from the USDA Rural Utilities Service (http://www.usda.gov/rus/telecom/broadband.htm) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (http://www.ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants/).

In 2008, the Authority awarded five grants for $1.44 million (representing a total project value of more than $5.5 million). Four of the grants will provide high speed internet service to more than 45 communities representing nearly 9,000 households and businesses, adding another 1.7 percent in potential household broadband availability. The fifth grant provides a match requirement for a project to build a fiber optic cable network that will connect and provide high speed telehealth services for three partnering medical centers and seven health care facilities in six towns across Franklin, Oxford, and Androscoggin counties.

The pre-application letters should be received by the Authority no later than June 1, 2009. Full application packages may be available by June 15, 2009. Completed detailed applications are due July 15, 2009. The pre-application form and questionnaire can be found at http://www.maine.gov/connectme/index.shtml