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Jun 14, 2023

Maine wants to use $200 million to expand broadband access, starting where it’s needed most

The state is deciding how to use federal funds for improving high-speed internet access, and wants public input on some of the priorities that have been identified so far.

A plan to use hundreds of millions of federal dollars to expand broadband access in Maine would connect 94,000 homes and businesses without internet or with unreliable service.

Among other goals, the proposed Broadband Action Plan aims to promote greater investment in high-speed internet, grow the state’s broadband workforce and reduce the costs of online service.

The Maine Connectivity Authority is seeking public feedback on the five-year plan, which will guide how the state invests $200 million to $300 million in federal funds intended to ensure every Mainer has equitable access to affordable, reliable internet service, as well as technical support and online security. The authority released the draft plan June 9 after six months of community engagement, including a statewide survey, numerous public meetings, a series of focus groups and coordination with partners in education, economic development, finance and the Wabanaki nations.

“We’re really hoping that everyone sees their fingerprints on this,” said the authority’s president, Andrew Butcher. “We want to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to comment on this draft and help us finalize our five-year action plan.”

The authority will learn June 28 exactly how much money Maine will receive from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program.

The authority is a quasi-governmental agency established by the Legislature in 2021 to expand access to reliable, affordable, high-speed internet service across Maine. As access becomes increasingly necessary to daily tasks – especially since the start of the pandemic – the authority says it’s working to ensure residents, businesses and institutions can take full advantage of broadband’s economic, health-related, educational and social benefits.

Roughly three-quarters of Maine’s 1.37 million residents don’t have access to broadband service that meets the state’s standard of 100 megabits per second for both download and upload speeds, Butcher said. That standard is considerably faster than the minimum set by the Federal Communications Commission, 25 Mbps for downloading and 3 Mbps for uploading.

“We live in an upload economy now,” Butcher said. “We need the ability to upload as easily as we download.”

Even based on the slower FFC criteria, about 52,000 user locations in Maine lack a reliable high-speed internet connection and another 42,000 lack internet service completely. Together they account for 15% of Maine homes and businesses, and represent a key priority for the authority’s plan.

“They are tucked along the pockets of our rocky coast, hidden down long dirt roads among potato fields in Aroostook County, and nestled in plain sight just outside our service center communities in central Maine,” the plan states.

Only about 24% of Maine homes and businesses have broadband service that meets the state’s higher standard of 100 Mbps for downloads and uploads.


Slow or low-capacity web connections and periodic outages are problems for many Mainers, with 40% of 3,200 respondents in a statewide survey saying they were dissatisfied with their connections.

The authority is trying to increase the accuracy of service data across the state, said Myles Smith, executive director of the Maine Broadband Coalition, which helped produce the plan.

“Because broadband is an essentially unregulated utility, the data about the actual number of customers served and the quality of service they’re getting is proprietary,” Smith said. “Some providers will claim they serve locations that they do not – it scares away competitors from building in those areas. And some providers claim they can deliver speeds that they cannot.”

High-speed internet is also unaffordable to many Mainers. The survey found 47% of respondents have at least some difficulty paying for internet service, and many are unaware of cost-saving initiatives like the Affordable Connection Program.

“Affordability is a huge barrier,” Butcher said. “That wasn’t surprising, but it was incredibly affirming of the work we have to do.”

The plan identifies several other barriers to expanding broadband access Maine.

For example, the states needs more than 3,400 new broadband workers to help build out the necessary infrastructure and expand services for broadband users. In some parts of Maine, geography can be an obstacle to adding infrastructure. Some parts of the process, such as utility pole attachment, permitting and insurance, “require significant resources to navigate and will slow the overall process if not addressed.”

“Even if you have access, there are other things that can limit equity, including affordability and lack of digital knowledge,” Butcher said. “We can’t afford to have people in the digital dark.”

A public comment period on the Broadband Action Plan is open through June 30, and feedback can be shared at Virtual listening sessions are scheduled for June 26 and 30, with registration through the authority’s website. A final version of the plan will be submitted to the federal government by Aug. 1.

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