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Feb 15, 2024

Press Release: Maine Leads Nation with First Plan To Close the Digital Divide

PORTLAND – Maine is the first state in the country to have its Digital Equity Plan approved by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

“This milestone is proof that Maine is a national leader in expanding access to high-quality, affordable internet,” said Governor Janet Mills. “That Maine is the first state in the nation to earn the approval of its Digital Equity Plan demonstrates the seriousness of our commitment to closing the digital divide and delivering affordable, high-speed internet to anyone in Maine who wants it. We look forward to seeking every available Federal dollar to help us achieve that because we know expanding internet access is a necessity for the success of our people and our economy.”

The plan outlines the steps the state will take to expand access to high-speed, reliable internet and break down barriers to connections, especially for populations most impacted by the digital divide. Its approval is the first step for Maine to qualify for Digital Equity Act funding, resulting in an estimated allocation between $12 million and $14 million. The allocations and details will be released by NTIA later this spring.

“Maine’s digital equity plan will help break down barriers to being connected, ensuring that every person in the state can take full advantage of the opportunities that the internet can provide,” said Andrew Butcher, president of the Maine Connectivity Authority. “We’re proud that our work and the significant effort of our digital equity partners has been recognized and that we can begin to put our plans into motion. While expanding infrastructure is important, it’s only part of the solution. To make sure everyone is truly connected, service must be affordable, and Maine people must have the confidence and tools to connect. Maine has an incredible, historic opportunity and the plan to to make the most of this opportunity, particularly for people who have faced significant barriers to getting connected.”

“Today, Maine is taking a major step toward closing the digital divide. I congratulate Maine and the Maine Connectivity Authority for being the first in the nation to hit this milestone,” said Angela Thi Bennett, Director of Digital Equity, NTIA. “The state's intentional work to ensure digital equity is fully integrated into their overall Internet for All plan will make certain everyone in Maine possesses the digital skills, tools, and capacity to thrive.”

Through the planning process, the Maine Connectivity Authority identified several key challenges that need to be addressed to close the digital divide, including a focus on the affordability of service, access to internet-capable devices, digital skills, and online safety training.

The plan includes key strategies to reduce barriers to connectivity for those who are most underserved - including older adults, veterans, low-income families, people living in rural areas, people with disabilities and minority populations. It also describes the important partnerships and goals for private investments to maximize the opportunity created by the Digital Equity Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.
Strategies outlined in Maine’s plan include:

1. Improve access to broadband through grant funding for local and regional infrastructure projects;
2. Sustain and grow Maine’s investment in digital equity by establishing the Maine Digital Equity Fund, which will raise $15 million in philanthropic support and be matched by additional investment from the federal government.
3. Increase affordability of internet service, including increasing enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program, and expanding access to free or low-cost connectivity in affordable housing units;
4. Secure at least 25,000 donated devices for refurbishment from businesses, institutions, and agencies statewide;
5. Ensure access to affordable devices (desktops, laptops, tablets) and technical support by distributing 50,000 new and refurbished devices to Mainers who need them;
6. Improve Mainers’ digital skills through outreach and training;
7. Help Mainers stay safe online by providing internet safety training; and
8. Make it easier to access government resources and programs online;

“This is an amazing moment for Maine, and testament to all of the hard work of many partners who participated in the planning process,” said Danielle Louder, the vice chair of the Maine Connectivity Authority Board of Directors and the chair of the Digital Equity and Inclusion Committee. “But most importantly, we are grateful to the many thousands of Maine people who completed the survey or participated in a focus group or community meeting: their experiences shaped this plan so we could focus on the important things that will have the biggest impact.“

To create this plan, MCA and its partners conducted significant outreach and engagement between January and June 2023. Six stakeholder groups comprising 117 individuals, organizations, and agencies contributed to the engagement process. Additionally, three formal tribal consultations were held with the chiefs of the Mi’kmaq Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik, and the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk.

The statewide Maine Broadband Survey collected over 3,200 responses online and in hard copy versions and was translated into 12 languages. Thirteen focus groups were facilitated by MCA and hosted by organizations that serve or represent the priority populations. An additional 16 community meetings were held around the state to collect feedback from the general public.

Almost 20 partners from Maine attended the Net Inclusion conference in San Antonio, Texas, to explore best practices and learn from others around the country. Thirteen regional and tribal broadband partners supported this planning effort, convening 180 digital equity coalition partners, conducting 651 interviews, and creating a digital equity plan for each region and tribal community. MCA and its partners hosted the first-ever Digital Equity

Workshop facilitated by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, bringing together 120 participants and concluding the planning period.

Quotes from Partners:
“I co-authored the broadband section of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help bridge the
digital divide between rural and urban areas, and I am pleased that this funding will help Maine
identify where and how to make historic investments to extend its high-speed network to ensure
that families have a reliable connection to their loved ones, co-workers, schools, and medical
services,” said Senator Collins.

“In the 21st century, access to affordable high-speed broadband is essential for education,
economic and business opportunities across our state – and it’s vital that we make sure every
household can participate,” said Senator King. “Today’s news is an incredible validation of the
leadership and vision of the Maine Connectivity Authority’s team – and keeps us on track for
the goal of affordable broadband connections in every corner and pocket of Maine. With Maine
facing unique barriers to hit that goal, today’s funding announcement from NTIA to enable the
implementation of the state’s digital equity plan is a tremendous win that moves us closer
toward closing the digital divide.”

Noël Bonam, Maine State Director, AARP
“AARP Maine, on behalf of our 200,000 members in Maine, applauds the approval of our state’s
plan to expand high-speed internet access and adoption across our state. High-speed internet is
not a luxury. It is a necessity for older Mainers. This plan is Maine’s blueprint to tear down the
digital divide in our state. While putting this comprehensive plan together is a commendable
start, there is much work ahead of us. AARP Maine looks forward to working with MCA and
other key stakeholders toward successful implementation of this plan.”

Susan Corbett, founder and executive director, National Digital Equity Center
“The National Digital Equity Center is so pleased that the State of Maine Digital Equity Plan has
the honor of being the first digital equity plan in the country to be submitted and approved by
NTIA. Many people and organizations worked diligently and passionately on this plan to ensure
that no Mainer will be left behind in the digital divide. NDEC is proud to be at the forefront of
digital inclusion efforts in Maine and looks forward to working with colleagues statewide as the
Maine Digital Equity Plan is implemented.”

Digital Equity Task Force members include:
Susan Corbett (National Digital Equity Center)
Debra Bare-Rogers (Disability Rights Maine)
Noel Bonam (AARP Maine)
Mufalo Chitam (Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition)
Dan Coyne (United Way of Southern Maine)
Nakia Dana (Passamaquoddy Tribe of Motahkomikuk)
Chris Martin (Give IT. Get IT.)
Melissa Denbow (Machias Savings Bank)
Megan Dichter (Maine Department of Education )
Cindy Farrington (Maine Resident Services Coord Assoc.)
Sara Gagne-Holmes (Maine DHHS)
Kendall Penndorf (Good Shepherd Food Bank)
Elizabeth Gattine (Cabinet on Aging)
Joshua Howe (Maine Community College System)
Jess Irish (Bath Housing Authority)
Erik Jorgensen (Maine Housing Authority)
Len Kaye (University of Maine, Center on Aging)
Bruce King (Maine Inside Out)
Beth Lambert (Maine Department of Education)
Calvin Lewis (ZRO Gravity)
Danielle Louder (NE Telehealth Resource Center)
Jess Maurer (Maine Council on Aging)
Angela Okafor (Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, & Tribal
Rilwan Osman (Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services)
Jason Parent (Aroostook County Action Program)
Mia Purcell (Community Concepts)
Sarah Sherman (Maine Bureau of Veterans Services)
Megan Shore (Elmina B Sewall Foundation)
Lisa Sockabasin (Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness)
Lindsay Thrall (EverNorth)
Ruben Torres (Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition)
Julia Trujilloluengo (Maine DECD)
Charlene Virgilio (Four Directions Development Corporation)
Marijke Visser (Maine State Library)
Chris Waite (Four Directions DC - Tribal broadband consultant)
Tobin Williamson (Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition)
Charlie Woodworth (Greater Franklin Economic and Community Development)
Elaine Abbott (Sunrise County Economic Council)
Jared Tapley (Northern Maine Development Commission)
Cole Averill & Ben Bussiere (Eastern Maine Development Corporation)
Clara McCool (Greater Portland Council of Governments)
James Rather & Kayla Lewis (Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission)
Christa Thorpe (Island Institute)
Mary Ellen Barnes (Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission)
Ethan Vinson (Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments)
Hildie Lipson (GrowSmart Maine)
Elizabeth Caruso (Somerset Economic Development Corporation)

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