Jul 14, 2022

Maine to get $110 million to expand high-speed internet

Starting this fall, the money is expected to be used on projects to reach rural areas.

Maine will get $110 million in federal funds to expand high-speed internet access to about 22,000 families and businesses in rural parts of the state, Sen. Angus King announced Thursday.

The money comes from the American Rescue Plan, King said in an announcement with other lawmakers and officials from the U.S. Treasury.

In Maine, King said the extension of high-speed connections will help students learn at home and also expand economic opportunity by giving rural Mainers access to remote work.

“You can now work where you live, rather than having to live where you work,” King said. “This is a sea change in economic opportunity, particularly in rural Maine.”

King was “one of the core leaders” in making sure that money for expanding broadband connections was included in the American Rescue Plan, Gene Sperling, the White House ARP coordinator, said in a Zoom call Thursday.

King compared expanded broadband access to the effort to extend electricity to rural parts of the country in the 1930s. He said he saw the need to expand high-speed internet access to rural parts of Maine when he first ran for the Senate in 2012 and that attention is now paying off, although it has taken longer than he had hoped it would 10 years ago.

The need remains great, he said, especially in rural parts of northern Maine and the islands off the coast. King said the school superintendent of Maine’s Unorganized Territories told him yesterday that some students return to school to do their homework, sitting outside a school building where they can connect to the internet, because they have no access at home.

King said the money announced Thursday will help meet the access needs of about a quarter of the Mainers who still don’t have a high-speed internet connection. He said the money should be flowing this fall and will be administered by the Maine Connectivity Authority.

Another $300 million for expanding high-speed connections will come later from the infrastructure bill that Congress passed last fall, King said, and the combination of those funds with the money announced Thursday should ensure that high-speed internet connections are available to nearly everyone in the state.

Gov. Janet Mills lauded the funding Thursday, saying her goal is to have high-speed internet connections available to all by the end of 2024.

“For our people, our economy and our future, a high-speed internet connection must be available to everyone in Maine who wants one,” Mills said.

The governor also has committed $21 million in state funding to expand broadband.

Sperling said Thursday that money for expanding broadband access also was being awarded to Maryland, Minnesota and Kansas, in addition to Maine.