Maine Senate approves Sen. Herbig’s bill to improve reliable access to high-speed internet

Posted: March 13, 2020 | Senator Bellows, Senator Herbig

AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate on Tuesday voted in support of a bill from Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, to invest in high-speed reliable internet service in rural Maine. The bill – LD 2021, “An Act To Provide Funding for Broadband Internet Infrastructure in Unserved and Underserved Areas” – would provide $15 million to ConnectME Authority

“Lack of access to reliable high-speed internet creates an incredible barrier to education, business growth, access to telehealth services, and economic activity in Waldo County and all rural, underserved parts of Maine,” said Sen. Herbig. “Access to high-speed internet is a utility, just as important as electricity or roads to access markets and participate in today’s economy. It is time for the state to invest in rural Maine’s economic future, and access to reliable high-speed internet is arguably the most important aspect of that investment.”

In New England, Maine ranks last in the region in terms of access to high-speed internet, according to the latest census data. The funding provided in LD 2021 will allow ConnectME to provide competitive broadband infrastructure grants to underserved communities in Maine

“In today’s economy, the internet is no longer a luxury — it’s just as vital as phone lines, electricity, and safe roads for participating in the market,” said Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, who co-sponsored the bill. “Businesses need it to connect with suppliers and clients; students need it to do their homework; health care patients, especially our elderly neighbors and family members, need it to connect with their providers. This bill will provide critically needed investment in Maine’s economy and future prosperity.”

ConnectME is the state agency charged with getting the entire state connected to high-speed, reliable internet. According to their 2020 Broadband Action Plan, an estimated 50 percent of roadways or 17,660 miles are considered underserved.

This state funding would help leverage private and federal funds to facilitate the construction of these broadband infrastructure projects. The state funding essentially serves as seed money to help communities get their projects off the ground. Currently, there are more than 100 communities that have done the planning and are waiting for a broadband infrastructure grant.

The bill received broad support from a wide variety of organizations at its public hearing. Proponents of the legislation include Maine Municipal Association, Maine Chamber of Commerce, Maine Farmland Trust, Maine Farm Bureau Association, the University of Maine System, the Community College System, AARP Maine, Maine Public Health Association, Maine Association of Realtors, Northern Light Health, Educate Maine, and the State Board of Education.

The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate.