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Jun 26, 2023

'A tremendous opportunity:' Maine to get $272M for broadband expansion

PORTLAND (WGME) -- President Joe Biden says access to the internet these days is just as important as access to electricity, and he wants every American to have it.

"We're going to be able to connect every person in America to reliable, high-speed internet by 2030," Biden said.

As part of the infrastructure bill the President signed in 2021, $42.5 billion will be divvied out to states and territories based on the number of locations without access to speedy internet.

That makes up more than 7 percent of the country, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

On Monday, states learned just how much money they will receive. Each state will have until the end of this year to submit proposals for how they'd spend the money.

The announcement includes $272 million for broadband in Maine. The governor's office says that's the state's largest such grant ever.

There's been an effort to improve access to the internet across the state for years, with tens of millions of dollars in funding dedicated to this issue.

Some communities, like Durham, may be starting to notice a difference. The town was ranked among the worst for internet speed in the state back in 2018.

Devin Garneau, who is the town's IT officer, says it seems to be improving.

"Ever since Fidium came in. For the longest time it’s just been Comcast or DSL," Garneau said.

Garneau has lived in town his whole life.

"We were paying an arm and a leg for basically terrible internet," Garneau said.

In recent months, there's been a big change in options, speed and affordability.

"Now that we have fiber through Fidium, I think things are going to look a lot better," Garneau said.

It's still not that way in many parts of Maine.

"We have a number of hard-to-reach and unserved locations, but we also have a growing digital divide in how people are able to afford and adopt the usage," Maine Connectivity Authority President Andrew Butcher said.

Butcher is hoping that the $272 million in funding over the next five years will help address these issues.

Funds will be deployed in connection with the state's five-year action plan and digital equity strategy, which can be found on the MCA's website.

"The plans are currently in draft form seeking public comment, so we encourage any and all to take a look at those plans," Butcher said.

The White House claims with this money and other investments under the Biden administration, all states will have the resources to connect every resident and small business to reliable, affordable high-speed internet by 2030.

Butcher says that they will be stretching this money as far as possible.

"This is a huge boost to addressing the challenges, and we are absolutely going to need to leverage additional funds," Butcher said.

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