By Sen. Bill Diamond
At this point, it is hard to deny that the internet is central to everything we do. It helps us stay in touch with one another, stay up to date with goings-on around the world, and so much more. And as the internet has become more and more a part of daily life, it has also become more and more a part of our economy.
That’s why it has become a problem that Maine ranks last in New England in terms of access to
reliable, high-speed internet. It’s not just that we can’t watch videos on YouTube or update our Facebook pages with the frequency of our more urban counterparts. Substandard internet access means that there are parts of the state where kids have to do their homework in library parking lots, where businesses aren’t able to stay in touch with customers or vendors and lose their edge against better-connected competitors, and where businesses decide not to invest. Continuing to fall behind on this important metric would be an economic disaster.
In this day and age, high-speed, reliable internet should not be a luxury. That’s why the Legislature is working on a solution to expand high-speed internet access across the state, to make sure that even in the most rural parts of Maine, homes and businesses can be plugged in to the web.
We started to work on this problem last year. My colleague Erin Herbig, D-Waldo, introduced a bond proposal to fund investments in high-speed internet across the state. The $20 million bond would have been a sensible investment, but unfortunately, it did not get the two-thirds support needed in the Senate to be sent to the voters for consideration. In fact, it only missed the mark by one vote. The Legislature did manage to increase funding for the ConnectME Authority, which is in charge of administering funds to expand internet access, in the biennial budget, but for only about $1 million per year.
This session, Sen. Herbig introduced a new bill that would provide $15 million in funding, but instead of borrowing it in the form of a bond, it would be paid for within the existing budget. This tightened-up approach should still provide the funds needed, and if this new funding becomes available, it could be a big opportunity for our area.
The ConnectME Authority recently released its 2020 Broadband Action plan, which included a list of towns in Maine that it identified as being ready for internet upgrades. This list includes Windham, Raymond and Standish. With funding from the Legislature, ConnectME would like to provide grants to these towns that, along with private investments and possibly federal and municipal funding, would finance expanded access to high-speed, reliable internet. To read the full report, visit: www.maine.gov/connectme/.
I’m hopeful that we will be able to make this needed investment in our economic future.
As always, please feel free to contact me or my office with any questions, comments or concerns. You can call (207) 287-1515 or email me at email@example.com. It is an honor to serve as your state senator.