Monday, July 18, 2022
“In today’s world, access to affordable, high-speed internet is as fundamental as electricity, heat, and water. If we want a strong economy and thriving state, we’ve simply got to have it.”—Governor Janet Mills
Since 2005, Maine has recognized the importance of adequate internet service to everyday life and commerce, in both urban and rural areas of the state. On July 14, the U.S. Department of Treasury approved the state’s plan to connect 22,500 homes and businesses through Maine Infrastructure Ready.
The Digital Divide in Maine
As of 2021, 93 percent of locations in Maine had access to 25/3mbps internet service but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the insufficiency of 25/3 Mbps (or less) internet service due to its inability to support all users of common network applications simultaneously. To meet the broadband vision of the state, in early 2021, the ConnectMaine Authority designated broadband service as 100/100 Mbps. While unserved areas were designated based on the availability of 50/10 Mbps, eligibility for grants also applied in underserved areas. Unserved and underserved areas cover nearly 90% of the state. Only 55 percent of Mainers subscribe to internet service of at least 25/3 Mbps.
Broadband Programs in Maine
Maine has two similar, but separate broadband authorities: the ConnectMaine Authority (ConnectME) and Maine Connectivity Authority.
In 2006, the Maine legislature created ConnectME, inside the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, to expand broadband—both connectivity and use—statewide. ConnectME has run two grant programs: one provides support for community planning and a second one focused on helping to build out broadband infrastructure.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Janet Mills (D-ME) 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.
In June 2021, Maine enacted legislation to establish the Maine Connectivity Authority, an entity charged with achieving universal availability of high-speed broadband in Maine. The Maine Connectivity Authority has the ability to own physical infrastructure and steward partnerships itself, unlike ConnectME which is grant-focused.
Using American Rescue Plan funds, the Maine Connectivity Authority will work to ensure three goals:
- Make effective, accessible connectivity universally available in the state;
- Secure, affordable, reliable, competitive, and sustainable forward-looking infrastructure to meet future needs; and
- Ensure all residents, businesses and institutions in Maine are able to take full advantage of the economic, health, educational, and other opportunities available through connectivity services.
The ConnectME Authority and the Maine Connectivity Authority work together to:
- Share data and tools;
- Sustain the community of broadband advocates that support local broadband investment and engagement;
- Provide continuous support for expanding broadband availability through a consistent and transparent process and public offerings;
- Protect and sustain the revenue streams of ConnectME, which support ongoing work of expanding broadband availability;
- Avoid disrupting the marketplace and ongoing grants programs, and ensure clear, joint communications to the industry, state partners, existing staff, and Maine communities about future plans; and
- Maximize funds used to realize Maine’s goals and minimize unnecessary or duplicative expenditures.
ConnectME offers grants and resources to support community preparedness, and is actively continuing to build out mapping platforms that will support the prioritization of infrastructure funding and deployment statewide. ConnectME successfully applied for and will oversee a $28 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program. The project will expand broadband access to nearly 15,000 Maine subscriber locations.
Moving forward, the Maine Connectivity Authority will be leading the state’s efforts to close the digital divide with ConnectME playing a supporting role. On July 14, the U.S. Treasury approved Maine’s plan to invest $110 million to connect 22,500 locations in the state. The Maine Connectivity Authority will oversee Maine Infrastructure Ready, a competitive broadband infrastructure grant program. The program will invest in qualified locations that can be served by line extensions of existing networks—or new networks—focusing on serving locations that currently lack access to reliable wireline service at speeds of 100/20 Mbps, including remote locations in Maine’s most rural counties.
The networks supported by Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund will be designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical to households and businesses upon project completion. These broadband providers will participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, a $30/month subsidy for low-income families.
The $110 million represents 86 percent of Maine’s Capital Projects Fund allocation. The state estimates the investment will serve 27% of locations still lacking high-speed internet access in the state.
U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) is a co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus and one of the primary authors of the legislative language that created the Capital Projects Fund in the American Rescue Plan Act, making it a priority in the pandemic aid package which passed by one vote in March of 2020. Broadband expansion has been one of Senator King’s central goals since launching his Senate campaign in 2012, comparing the effort to the transformational process of rural electrification in the 20th century. As co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, Senator King has been a strong advocate for expanding affordable broadband access as a way to increase economic opportunity in rural Maine.
“This historic $110 million broadband investment from the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund will make a significant difference for people throughout our state—expanding economic prosperity, opening educational pathways, and creating convenient ways to get critical services like healthcare,” said Sen. King. “Combined with the broadband provisions in the [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act], these funds will get us close to ensuring that every Maine person—regardless of where they live—can access this critical 21st century tool. My colleagues and I worked hard to include the Capital Projects Fund in the American Rescue Plan, and I look forward to seeing how this funding creates valuable new opportunities for Maine people.”
“For our people, our economy, and our future, a high-speed internet connection must be available to everyone in Maine who wants one – and that’s why I committed Maine to achieving that goal by the end of 2024,” said Governor Janet Mills. “Maine’s responsible use of these Federal funds – developed by the Maine Connectivity Authority – will help us reach that goal and make a real and positive difference in the lives of Maine people, especially those who live in our rural communities. I am excited by this transformational opportunity, and I thank the Treasury Department, Senator King and Congresswoman Pingree, and the Maine Connectivity Authority for helping make it possible.”
“These broadband investments through the American Rescue Plan will help lay the foundation to ensure that every American household and small business has access to affordable, high-speed internet,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo. “Treasury commends the work Maine is doing to close the digital divide and ensure that every community—including rural communities—has access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet.”
More in this series
American Rescue Plan Fuels Virginia’s Universal Broadband Efforts
Treasury Helps Broadband for Everyone in Louisiana
Capital Projects Fund Aids West Virginia’s Billion Dollar Broadband Strategy
Broadband is the Future of New Hampshire
U.S. Treasury Helps Accelerate Broadband Deployment in Kansas
Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund Boosts Maryland’s Network Infrastructure Grant Program