Broadband bill clears Maine House hurdle with bipartisan support
Bill boosts economic development through $1 million in infrastructure funding
The Maine House of Repersentatives, on March 3, 2016, gave its initial approval to an economic development bill that would expand broadband access in rural Maine.
The voted “under the hammer,” or by unanimous consent, on LD 826, An Act To Promote Maine’s Economic Development and Critical Communications for Rural Farms, Businesses and Residence by Strategic Public Investments in High-speed Internet.
The bill provides $1 million from the General Fund annually to the ConnectME Authority, which is charged with facilitating universal availability of broadband in the state. It would bring total annual funding for ConnectME up to $2.2 million.
“The House recognized that high-speed, high-capacity Internet access is not a luxury, but as much of a necessity as decent roads and reliable electricity,” said Rep. Robert Saucier, D-Presque Isle, who is sponsoring the bill with the backing of the Aroostook County Farm Bureau and the Maine Farm Bureau. “We need this investment if Maine – all of Maine – is going to prosper and succeed.”
The state’s primary fiber-optic network, called the Three-Ring Binder, consists of three loops in southern, northern and Downeast Maine. But many Maine communities, homes and businesses remain unconnected to this 1,100-mile long broadband interstate and will not be able to make use of it until the rest of the network – the off-ramps and local road off the interstate – are in place.
Eighty percent of Maine households are underserved in terms of broadband, and some have no access at all. Adequate access is definite as speeds of 10 mbps for both uploading and downloading, the type of speed needed to videoconference, take an online class or share files with colleagues and clients.
“Maine needs a 21st century infrastructure if we’re going to compete successfully in the 21st century economy,” said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, House chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology. “Kicking the can down the road is no way to jump start economic development or grow good jobs with strong wages. Now is the time to act.”
The bill faces further action in the House and Senate.