A measure by Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, would help Maine communities develop a robust broadband infrastructure to support economic growth.
“Maine is competing in the global economy of the 21st century, and high-speed broadband networks are essential to making our state competitive,” said Gideon. “By investing in our broadband infrastructure, we can create good-paying jobs statewide.”
LD 1063 will help communities assess local needs and develop a plan to meet them by providing grant funding, technical assistance and the most up-to-date research and best practices in broadband technology. The increased support will come through the ConnectME Authority, an existing agency whose mission is to increase access to broadband and help Mainers use it to enrich their communities and local economies.
“Increased access to broadband is beneficial to all Mainers. From small start-up family businesses to large companies, businesses in every corner of Maine need reliable, high-speed internet in order to be successful. Our hospitals, particularly in the rural areas, need broadband access to function in today’s high-tech world. Expanded access to broadband is also essential for ensuring our students can succeed,” said Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Androscoggin, the lead co-sponsor of LD 1063. “I’m confident that with thoughtful planning and investment that builds on already existing resources, Maine can have the broadband infrastructure that we need for today’s fast-paced, global society.”
The lawmakers cited Rockport’s recent success in building a town-owned gigabit fiber optic network to bring high-speed broadband to its downtown businesses as an example of municipal investment in broadband infrastructure. Other Maine cities, they noted, are also moving toward similar models.
“About 80 percent of Maine households are underserved when it comes to adequate broadband. Some do not have access to fast enough Internet – the kinds of speeds needed for video conferencing or uploading documents efficiently – and some have no Internet access at all,” said Gideon. “By expanding broadband access to towns across the state, we can make significant progress in breaking down the barriers that limit economic development.”
According to Google Director of Marketing Scott Levitan, 97 percent of American consumers search online for goods and services. At the same time, 59 percent of small businesses in Maine do not have a website.
Maine currently has a 1,100-mile statewide fiber optic network called the Three Ring Binder, which can be accessed by carriers and service providers locally to connect Mainers with broadband. The network extends to western, northern and Downeast Maine, but many communities lack the infrastructure to utilize the Three Ring Binder. LD 1063 would help more areas of the state plug in to this so-called “dark fiber” network.The bill was referred to the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, which will schedule a public hearing in the coming weeks.
Gideon is serving her second term in the Maine House. She represents Freeport and part of Pownal.