Aug 8, 2022

Maine’s broadband revolution requires cooperation

We can no longer afford to perpetuate an inequitable existence between the haves and have-nots. Access to the internet is now a way of life, and those who are not connected need solutions as soon as possible. The path is still coming into focus, and the journey will not be without bumps, but we can get there from here.

Andrew Butcher is the president of the Maine Connectivity Authority, a quasi-governmental agency charged with achieving universal access to affordable high-speed broadband in Maine.

Maine is at the precipice of a broadband revolution. It will be powered by an unprecedented investment in the technology that enables the work, health, education, and lifestyle that will define our state for generations to come. High-speed internet is essential to participate in modern society, and we have an amazing (and daunting) opportunity to fundamentally improve the infrastructure that allows Mainers to digitally connect with each other and the world.

We’ve got one shot to get this right, and we’re up against some very real challenges. Maine has long faced labor and workforce shortages, global supply chains are tighter than ever, and inflation costs are disrupting and delaying construction across the state and beyond. What’s more, there is no blanket solution that works for every location across our incredibly diverse state.

Broadband funding has historically been an environment where scarcity governed our actions and opportunities. But now, we have a massive opportunity to provide something for everyone.

Last month, the United States Department of Treasury announced the approval of the first round of the Maine Connectivity Authority’s Capital Project Funds. Combined with state funding from the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, we are thrilled to share the framework for our All-In Program, which leverages $150 million of American Rescue Plan funds to transform the broadband infrastructure of this state. This represents a 10-fold increase in the available funding for connectivity in Maine.

To rapidly provide connectivity for all Mainers, All-In is rooted in the philosophy that all options must be on the table. This means doubling down on the community-driven approach, prioritizing digital equity in our planning process, encouraging public-private partnerships, trialing wireless innovations, investing in middle mile infrastructure, extending existing networks, building new networks, enabling local ownership, all while using data and facts to inform our decision making.

When you add it all up, that’s quite a lift!

Input from stakeholders will be essential as we shape this programming. We are committed to providing space for productive dialogue and a meaningful exchange of ideas. Since June, the Maine Connectivity Authority has held over 50 conversations with communities and internet service providers and has also launched the Digital Equity Task Force to anchor the state’s planning process in digital equity and inclusion.

In the coming weeks, we will announce a series of virtual roundtable discussions as we work towards program launches in October. Please visit maineconnectivity.org/all-in to learn how you can participate in the conversation.

We will only accomplish our goals and maximize this historic investment by working together with sensibility and civility. As with many novel challenges, there are strong (and occasionally conflicting) beliefs about which models will provide the most beneficial outcomes. But we don’t have to accept the false choices presented by corporate interest groups like the Alliance for Quality Broadband.

Communities and internet service providers have a proud legacy of working together toward common-sense solutions. We should fuel and support this collaborative process, not hijack it through aggressive campaign tactics like those we’ve seen in Southport, Readfield, and elsewhere.

We can no longer afford to perpetuate an inequitable existence between the haves and have-nots. Access to the internet is now a way of life, and those who are not connected need solutions as soon as possible. The path is still coming into focus, and the journey will not be without bumps, but we can get there from here.