ConnectMaine Receives Major Award to Connect Dozens of Rural Communities

Contact: Ben Goodman,
February 25, 2022

ConnectMaine Receives Major Award to Connect Dozens of Rural Communities

U.S. Department of Commerce Grant will enable the ConnectMaine Authority, municipalities, internet service providers to connect more than 11,000 households

Augusta, Maine – The ConnectMaine Authority today celebrated an announcement that it has been awarded a $28 million grant by the U.S. Department of Commerce to bring fast, affordable internet service to thousands of unserved homes across the state. The award will fund a new public-private partnership that will connect more than thousands of unserved homes in more than a dozen communities.

The federal funds, awarded through a competitive grant process, will support a partnership between ConnectMaine, the towns of Somerville, Washington, and Isle au Haut, and internet service providers Consolidated Communications, Axiom Technologies, and LCI Fiber Optic Network to bring fiber to unserved areas in Franklin, Hancock, Knox, and Lincoln counties. The grant will support the establishment of municipally-owned networks in the three municipalities serving as partners under the grant.

       “I have pledged that every person in Maine who wants to connect to reliable internet will be able to do so by the end of 2024. This Federal funding will help us make progress on that ambitious goal by ensuring that more than 11,000 unserved Maine homes have access to high-speed  internet, providing them with the connection they need to work, study, start a business, see a doctor, and stay in touch with friends and family,” said Governor Janet Mills. “I thank Maine’s Congressional Delegation for their ongoing support and congratulate the ConnectMaine Authority and its partners, the municipalities of Somerville, Washington, and Isle Au Haut, and Consolidated Communications, Axiom Technologies, and LCI Fiber Optic Network, on this exciting venture.” 

      “Today’s award underscores that Maine is a leader in bringing together public and private organizations to meet our connectivity challenges,” said Peggy Schaffer, Director of the ConnectMaine Authority. “We look forward to working with our partners to help ensure that every Mainer has the connectivity they need to work, study, and communicate with their friends and family.”

    “This exciting public-private partnership will bring our state closer to its connectivity goals,” said Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. “During her recent State of the State Address, Governor Mills pledged that every Mainer who wants to connect to the internet will be able to do so by the end of 2024. This exciting announcement will bring Maine closer to that benchmark by connecting more than 11,000 homes with fast, affordable, and reliable internet.”

     "We are pleased to be supporting community owned broadband projects and excited to partner with three communities--Somerville, Washington and Isle au Haut--to deliver a world class fiber experience,” said Mark Ouellette, CEO of Axiom Technologies. “These communities will all have broadband connectivity that will rival anywhere on the planet, will close the digital divide for many children, and enable adults to be able to work from home productively. I thank Governor Mills and the ConnectMaine Authority for their support of this grant application.”

      “Consolidated Communications is thrilled to receive this NTIA Broadband Infrastructure Program grant, which will enable us to expand high-speed broadband access to even more unserved rural areas of Maine,” said Erik Garr, president of consumer and small business for Consolidated Communications. “This critical funding  supports our commitment to deliver high quality gigabit fiber services to more than 22,000 rural residents and small businesses in the Rangeley Lakes Region, the Blue Hill Peninsula and the Farmington area. This public private partnership enables broadband connectivity which will result in economic, employment and quality of life benefits, ultimately improving how residents work and live."

      “We are pleased and honored to be awarded the NTIA grant to build out fiber optic broadband to over 600 unserved homes in Jefferson, Maine.  This federal grant, when combined with our own substantial capital investment, will allow LCI to provide high speed fiber optic broadband to one of the most rural parts of Midcoast Maine,” said Shirley Manning, Owner and President of LCI Fiber Optic Network. “Our company’s goal is simple – to provide 100% fiber to the home service to as many unserved and underserved homes in Maine, as quickly as possible.  With the strong leadership of Governor Mills, the technical guidance from the ConnectME Authority, and our new partnership with the US Department of Commerce/NTIA, we now move one step closer to achieving that goal.”

Maine was one of the first states in the country to develop a community broadband planning program, and more than 200 communities have participated in the process since 2016. In addition, ConnectMaine had the vision to build a partnership of Maine companies to develop the broadband knowledge platform that created the base for a coordinated application. Thanks to the partnership of these communities, vendors and providers, ConnectMaine has been able to organize an application with such wide geographic diversity, bringing coverage from the mountains to the sea. ConnectMaine’s important groundwork and application submission took place prior to the establishment of the Maine Connectivity Authority; both entities continue to work closely together to reach Maine’s connectivity goals.

This award builds on the Mills Administration’s work to expand access to affordable broadband. Governor Mills dedicated $21 million through her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, which, when combined with the $129 million through the American Rescue Plan, will provide a total of $150 million to the Maine Connectivity Authority to expand access to affordable broadband.

In 2020, Governor Mills also dedicated $5.6 million in CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds, in partnership with private internet providers, to build out permanent internet infrastructure to more than 730 students across rural Maine. The initiative built on the Mills Administration’s previous work to secure mobile hotspots and learning devices for nearly 24,000 students across Maine after schools suspended in-classroom instruction and adopted remote learning earlier this year.

In 2020, Governor Mills also secured the approval of a $15 million bond proposal for broadband, the first new investment in internet expansion in more than a decade that has connected 11,000 homes and businesses to the internet.

The partnership supported by the grant will bring a fiber connection to unserved areas in Jefferson, Somerville, Washington, Isle Au Haut, Blue Hill, Penobscot, Sedgwick, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Deer Isle and a small portion of Stonington.  Communities in Franklin County include Dallas, Rangeley, and Sandy River Plantations, Rangeley, Farmington, Industry, Strong, Temple, New Sharon, Chesterville, Wilton. As mentioned above, Somerville, Washington and Isle Au Haut will be municipally owned networks, where ConnectMaine will provide the 10% match required for the grant.