Photo Caption: left to right, Gov. Janet Mills, Rep. Robert Alley, D-Beals, and Brooke Johnson of the ConnectME Authority attend the signing of LD 147.
By Ramona du Houx
A bill sponsored by Rep. Robert Alley, D-Beals, to allow rural Mainers to check out mobile wi-fi devices from their local libraries was signed into law on April 23, 2019, by Governor Janet Mills. The bill was enacted unanimously in both the House and the Senate.
“We had a grant a couple of years ago that paid for devices people could check out of the local library and have wireless internet service in their homes,” Rep. Alley said. “This was a great benefit to people, especially students who don’t have regular access to the internet at home. Then the grant ran out.”
The Maine State Library had partnered with the New York City Public Library to provide 80 of the devices to libraries in Maine to see how they would work in rural areas, including Washington County. The program was very popular, with waiting lists for the devices. The grant funding ran out in January, 2017. Alley’s bill makes the devices available again for another two years.
The ConnectME Authority was established under the Baldacci administration with the intent on expanding acess to internet services across the state. While some of its efforts have been a great sucess, there is much more to do. Part of the problem is the lack of population in rural areas doesn't give companies incentives for expansion in those areas.
Rep. Alley sponsored a similar bill in the last legislative session. The bill passed, but was vetoed by then-Governor Paul LePage. The House failed to override the veto.
“It is still hard to access high speed internet in Washington County and elsewhere in rural Maine,” said Rep. Alley. “Hopefully local availability of internet service will be better here in two years, but if not, then maybe we can extend the program again.”
The measure, LD 147, “An Act To Extend Internet Availability in Rural Maine,” was an emergency measure and goes into effect immediately. It is not known when the devices will be available.
Rep. Alley is serving his third term in the Maine House and represents Addison, Beals, Cherryfield, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington, Jonesboro, Jonesport, Marshfield, Milbridge and Whitneyville. He's a Navy Veteran and member of the Elected Officials to Protect America's Lands.