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Lawmakers focus on bringing broadband access to rural Maine

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AUGUSTA – The Maine Broadband Coalition recently highlighted a number of legislative initiatives to increase Maine’s connectivity to the world.

Access to reliable, high-speed Internet is crucial to full participation in the 21st century economy, just as access to roads, telephone and electricity were in the 20th century. But more than eight out of every 10 Mainers live in an area where even the minimum broadband standard (upload/download speeds of at least 10 Mbps) is unavailable. That minimum standard is rapidly falling behind the standards in much of the country and the world.

The Coalition held a news conference on April 26 to bring attention to 11 bills before the Legislature this session that would expand broadband access in Maine.

One of those bills, sponsored by Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, would expand funding for broadband expansion in Maine and would establish the Maine Broadband Initiative – a new public-private entity with the authority to undertake planning and investment for broadband expansion.

The MBI would be empowered to create statewide broadband benchmarks and strategies for meeting them, and would plan, construct, acquire or improve broadband infrastructure in Maine. It would support local and regional broadband expansion, collect and maintain information to establish benchmarks and serve as the fiscal agent for public investment in broadband.

“The level of access to high-speed, reliable Internet service in our state will help determine the future of our economy, our healthcare and even the demographics of our rural communities,” said Bellows. “Where people are able to live and work in 21st-century America depends upon their access to 21st-century utility broadband access.”

Bellows’ bill, as well as the 10 other broadband bills this session, share broad bipartisan support, proving that policymakers from all over the state understand the potential that expanded broadband could have for families, businesses, nonprofits and entrepreneurs in their districts.

“I’ve signed on as a co-sponsor to just about every broadband bill this session because I understand that access to high-speed internet is critical to our survival in Washington County,” said Sen. Joyce Maker, R-Calais. “Our county is about as rural and poor as you get in Maine. Whether it’s small businesses like Tide Mill Farms in Edmunds or large, global companies like the pulp and paper mill in Woodland, businesses across my county need access to the internet to succeed.”

Peggy Schaffer, the Small Business Advocate in the Secretary of State’s office and co-chair of the Maine Broadband Coalition, said “Maine has an opportunity this session to build on the good work of past legislatures to really make an impact in how we make sure Maine people and businesses can be competitive and connected for this and the next generation. We are excited to be able to work with legislators, communities and broadband providers across Maine to make this happen.”

Other bills to expand broadband and telemedicine in Maine include:
LD 140 An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Support Entrepreneurial Activity, Attract Business and Enhance Demographic In-migration by Investing in High-speed Broadband Infrastructure and To Amend the Law Governing the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Network Access Fund.
LD 256 An Act To Ensure Continued Availability of High-speed Broadband Internet at Maine’s Schools and Libraries.
LD 421 An Act To Promote Economic Development and Critical Communications for Rural Family Farms, Businesses and Residences by Strategic Public Investment in High-speed Internet.
LD 423 An Act To Extend Internet Availability in Rural Maine.
LD 406 – An Act To Amend the Law Regarding Joint Use of Certain Utility and Telecommunications Infrastructure – Submitted by the Public Utilities Commission.
LD 520 An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Increase Rural Maine’s Access to Broadband Internet Service.
LD 949 – An Act Regarding Telehealth.
LD 1359 – An Act To Adopt the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact.
LD 1372 – An Act To Increase Broadband Access for Rural Communities.
LD 1399 – An Act to Encourage Broadband.
LD 1472 An Act To Lower the Costs of Broadband Service by Coordinating the Installation of Broadband Infrastructure.
LD 1485 An Act Regarding MaineCare Coverage for Telehealth Services.
The Maine Broadband Coalition at https://mainebroadbandcoalition.org/ is an informal federation of public policy professionals, educational institutions, businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals with an interest in Maine’s economic future. The coalition gathers information for legislators to demonstrate how investing in world-class telecommunications infrastructure will draw people and investments to Maine.

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