Opinion

Broadband: Piscataquis County a clear loser

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In my five years as your state representative the lack of high speed broadband has been a key issue and the citizens of Piscataquis County have demanded action. In response, I have worked to create a non-political broadband caucus to advocate for funding to stimulate investment in rural Maine. There have been dozens of bills introduced to include broadband in the two year budget, proposals to increase revenue and multiple bond proposals. This year the budget has included $4 million to address a multi-million dollar need.

Rep. Norm Higgins, I-Dover-Foxcroft

The Legislature convened on Aug 25 for a special session to consider bonds. The governor proposed a bond to provide $15 million for broadband, $4 million for CTE Centers and $4 million to upgrade Maine National Guard facilities. The Maine Chamber of Commerce, University of Maine system and the community college system all endorsed the bond. In what would appear to be a no brainer the bond was defeated on a party line vote. As an Independent I believe that it shouldn’t matter which party you represent but rather the needs of the citizens of your communities.

Why is Piscataquis County a clear loser? The Connect Maine Authority has established a broadband speed of 25/3 as a minimum. A recent report determined that 11.5 percent of households in Maine fell below this standard. In Piscataquis County 76.94 percent of our households are below the minimum standard. In southern Maine counties it is less than 1 percent. The bond would have generated an additional $45 million in federal, private and local funding. The priority for awarding broadband grants was to invest in areas of Maine where minimum standards were not being met. Piscataquis County would have been a priority. Recently 16 towns in our county worked to develop a broadband plan. We are ready to move forward!

Piscataquis County has the oldest population, ranks last for median income and has shrinking school enrollments. If we are to prosper we need to access modern technology. If we want to encourage people to our county we cannot be last in broadband speed. We are resilient but it cannot make up for basic infrastructure.

When the Legislature convenes in January I will continue to advocate for the resources to address our needs. If only we could put party politics aside we could find common sense solutions.

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