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Feb 29, 2024

Nonprofits aim to bridge digital divide in Maine's rural and island communities

Three nonprofits have been seeing some success with their efforts to bring digital connectivity to Maine's rural and island communities.

In 2023, Maine Seacoast Mission partnered with the Island Institute and the Sunrise County Economic Council to look for ways of expanding high-speed internet access, which is still lacking in many parts of Maine.

The nonprofits worked with the Maine Connectivity Authority, which has recently submitted a first-in-the-nation state digital equity plan to the federal government.

Seacoast Mission, headquartered in the Hancock County town of Northeast Harbor, participated in the development of digital equity plans for Washington, Hancock and Waldo counties. Those activities formed Maine’s plan, which recently received approval by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The state plan defines how Maine will ensure households receive affordable, universal high-speed internet access.

“Internet connectivity is necessary for today’s communities,” said John Zavodny, the mission’s president. “Without good connectivity a rural community will struggle to attract and retain new businesses and families.”

As part of the Sunrise County Economic Council’s Washington County Digital Equity Coalition, mission staff coordinated communications among residents about connectivity habits and needs.

The mission’s Cherryfield campus also served as a host site for the National Center for Digital Equity.

Washington County’s digital equity plan includes educating residents about Maine's Affordable Connectivity Program, where access includes financial affordability, access to equipment and support for training to use digital services. The program gives qualified applicants a $30 credit toward the cost of internet services.

As of 2023, only 30% of eligible Washington County households had applied.

For Maine’s unbridged, outer islands, the mission worked with the Island Institute in Rockland and represented island residents during meetings of the Hancock and Waldo County Digital Inclusion Coalition.

Usually smaller than mainland communities, islands can lack resources for large infrastructure projects. Feedback for the plan included fortifying connectivity that allows access to telehealth services. Mission staff working aboard the organization’s flagship vessel, the Sunbeam, facilitated completion of the 2023 statewide digital equity survey of islanders.

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