Legislature Looks at Funding Options for Maine School and Library Broadband Network

In an effort to provide sustainable funding levels for the network that provides high-speed broadband to Maine schools and libraries, Maine lawmakers are considering a measure to make changes to a funding mechanism that has shrunk in recent years due to changes in the telecommunications industry.

The Maine School and Library Network (MSLN) uses centralized procurement and contracting with private providers to provide fiber-optic broadband connectivity and related services to 950 schools and libraries throughout Maine. The service reaches nearly every school in Maine with speeds ranging from 100 Mbps to up to 1 Gbps.

A portion of the funding for the network has been provided through the Maine Telecommunications Education Access Fund (MTEAF) assessment on certain in-state telephone revenues. Driven by declines in landline telephone service and a shift in revenue from voice to data and text, funding from the assessment has dropped an average of six percent each year since 2010. The trend is expected to accelerate in the coming years.

Sponsored by Biddeford State Representative, Martin Grohman, LD 256 - An Act To Ensure Continued Availability of High-speed Broadband Internet at Maine's Schools and Libraries, changes the limit on the amount collected on prepaid telecommunications service from a percentage to a flat amount. The bill also requires the Public Utilities Commission to convene a stakeholder group to evaluate and provide recommendations regarding the method of collection of funds to support telecommunications access at libraries and public schools.

The public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the legislation at hearing of the Joint Standing Committee of Energy, Utilities and Technology at 1:00 PM on Tuesday, February 14, 2017. The meeting will be held in room 211 of the Cross Office Building in Augusta.

For more information about the Maine School and Library Network (MSLN) and related funding concerns, visit: www.digitalmaine.com/ld_docs/32 .