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  • USDA Invests Nearly $10 Million for Broadband in Maine’s Rural, Coastal, and Island Communities

    by Ramona du Houx

     Jan. 30, 2020 – Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development announced a $9.87 million investment in four infrastructure projects that will create or improve rural e-Connectivity for 4,527 households and 215 businesses in rural Maine. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.

    “High-speed internet is no longer a luxury; it is an economic necessity,” said Governor Janet Mills. “This significant federal investment builds on the work done by the state to help connect our small, rural communities to high-speed internet and open new doors of opportunity for their residents. As we work to strengthen and diversify our economy, building out our broadband capacity will play an important role and this funding represents another welcome step forward.” 

    All this continues on the work the Baldacci administration started with its ConnectME program, that is still in effect today. In addition to other broadband intititives his adminstration, working with the Obama administration achieved.

    These projects have immense support from all Maine's members of congress.

    “Maine is the most rural state in the nation and ranks 49thin broadband access, which is a utility just as important as electricity or running water for rural Mainers and small businesses,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “Since I first took my seat on the House Appropriations Committee, I’ve pushed to expand rural broadband grant programs. Increased connectivity is a cornerstone of Maine’s future successes and I’m thrilled to see almost $10 million come to rural Maine communities that need the extra boost.”

       The following projects that will recieve funds are:

    • The Town of Arrowsic will use a $604,254 ReConnect Program grant and a $604,254 in ReConnect Program loan to construct a fiber-optic broadband network with speeds up to 100 megabytes per second (Mbps) to connect 237 households, 20 pre-subscribed businesses, and four pre-subscribed farms. 
    • Monhegan Plantation will use a $626,298 ReConnect Program grant to connect the entire island community in Lincoln County, which is home to a school, power district, municipal office, museum, post office, library, and several inns and small businesses. The project’s service area includes 40 households, an educational facility, a critical community facility, 11 pre-subscribed farms, and 15 pre-subscribed businesses.
    • The Town of Roque Bluffs will use an $893,170 ReConnect Program grant to construct a fiber-optic network to connect 166 households, 22 pre-subscribed farms, and 16 pre-subscribed businesses in Washington County. The network will connect to the Downeast Ring of Maine's "three-ring binder" network backbone in Machias, 4.5 miles from the town line on Roque Bluffs Road.
    • The Biddeford Internet Corporation will use a $3.5 million ReConnect Program grant and a $3.5 million ReConnect Program loan to expand its current gigabit Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network to connect 4,084 households, 30 pre-subscribed farms, 28 educational facilities, 23 pre-subscribed businesses, 15 health care centers, and 12 critical community facilities in Hebron, Sumner, Hartford, Buckfield, Canton, North Turner, Turner, South Paris, and West Paris.

    “Communities in Maine are in need of reliable broadband infrastructure in order to compete in an increasingly digital economy,” said Senators Collins and King. “With this important funding, rural towns throughout the state will be able to deploy high-speed broadband and fiber networks that will serve their residents for decades to come, enhance digital inclusion, and enable the many economic and social opportunities that are only made possible by 21st century connectivity.”

    Congressman Jared Golden said, “The people of Roque Bluffs are making impressive progress to bring reliable broadband to their town, and I’m proud to support their work. During the congressional hearing I brought to Washington County, I worked with Lisa Hanscom, the town’s First Selectman, and their partner, Axiom Technologies, to determine how Congress can help locally-led broadband efforts like Roque Bluffs’ get across the finish line. I applaud today’s grant award, which will help make Roque Bluffs’ bold plan to connect nearly the entire community to high-speed internet a reality. I know how important it is to close the digital divide for towns like Roque Bluffs and I will continue to work with these rural communities to improve this critical infrastructure.” 

    An additional $550 million in ReConnect funding will be avalible in 2020. USDA will make available up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 grant/loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans. The application window for this round of funding will open Jan. 31, 2020. Applications for all funding products will be accepted in the same application window, which will close no later than March 16, 2020.

    These grants, loans and combination funds enable the federal government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.

    To learn more background please go HERE.