Unveiled by Governor Mills yesterday, the legislation would put Maine in driver’s seat in expanding access to affordable broadband with goal of achieving universal availability in Maine
Testifying before the Legislature’s Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology this morning, Governor Janet Mills called for passage of legislation to establish the Maine Connectivity Authority, a new entity that would be charged with achieving universal availability of high-speed broadband in Maine.
The Governor unveiled the bipartisan legislation yesterday, which would put Maine in the driver’s seat in expanding affordable broadband. It is sponsored by Senator Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) and co-sponsored by Representative Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) and the other Co-Chairs of the Legislature’s Broadband Caucus.
“High speed internet is as fundamental as electricity, heat, and water. It is the primary way of connecting with other people. It is the modern equivalent of rural electrification in the 1930’s and the interstate highway system in the 1950’s. The internet is our highway of the future, yet thousands of people and businesses still can’t access, or afford, high speed internet in Maine,” said Governor Janet Mills. “This legislation is for every child who could not learn remotely this year because they could not Zoom into the classroom; for every entrepreneur who could not open the door of their new business because they could not get online; for the father or mother who wanted their child to Zoom with their grandparents but could not; for every person who is considering moving to Maine but wondering if they’ll be able to work remotely. I respectfully request that you vote a unanimous ought to pass on this groundbreaking bill.”
The creation of the Authority comes as Maine is expected to receive as much as $129 million through the American Rescue Act Plan signed into law by President Biden last month that can be used for broadband expansion. The Authority would use Maine’s Federal allocation of funding for broadband. Moreover, in a new approach distinct from but inclusive of the ConnectMaine Authority, it would be empowered to own physical broadband infrastructure, such as poles and wires, and hold equity in broadband projects. It would also provide grants and loans and partner with the private sector and local communities to leverage investment and coordinate buildout of infrastructure.
Taken together, the Authority positions Maine to take a more proactive approach to closing the digital divide in rural and hard-to-reach communities that will focus on meeting Maine’s current and future needs, rather than reacting in a piecemeal fashion with various private companies to construct a patchwork of infrastructure.
The creation of the Authority is the next step forward in Governor Mills’ commitment to expanding access to affordable broadband in Maine, one of her top priorities. Last year, the Governor secured the approval of a $15 million bond proposal for broadband, the first new investment in internet expansion in more than a decade, and her Administration is also spearing a broadband mapping initiative to facilitate the expansion of broadband into areas with inadequate service.
Last year, the Governor also dedicated $5.6 million in CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds in partnership with private internet providers to buildout 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.
A copy of the Governor’s testimony as prepared for delivery is attached.