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Oct 22, 2023

Universal connectivity must be for all of Maine

Nicholas MacDonald is a lecturer of small business management at the University of Maine at Machias. He previously worked for Machias Savings Bank.

Maine has set an ambitious yet necessary goal to achieve universal connectivity in the coming years. While ensuring all Americans have the connectivity they need for modern life is a critical objective nationwide, it is particularly important in our state. The stark income inequality prevalent in our state, coupled with the burden of high utility expenses, especially electricity, and the soaring costs of health care, make it evident that access to broadband is not a luxury but a fundamental need for our residents. Moreover, it’s essential to recognize the potential of universal connectivity in supporting struggling small-business owners, who stand to benefit significantly from increased access to this vital resource.

Considering initiatives like the ReachME Line Extensions program led by the Maine Connectivity Authority, delivering on this goal will require deliberate attention to identifying and addressing the truly underserved areas of our state when determining the allocation of broadband grants. This program has shown how to extend access to underserved areas, offering a blueprint for effectively reaching our connectivity goals.

While our state does have significant funding at hand to be used for broadband infrastructure projects, that funding is not infinite. If we allocate these funds recklessly, we risk failing to bridge the digital divide for many rural Mainers even after expending all available funding. To avoid this and make sure funding is used to its maximum potential, it’s critical that we prioritize allocating funds to areas that currently lack service and trying to build redundant networks.

Consider this very real scenario of many Mainers: In towns across our state, there are individuals and families who are unable to access vital services, whether it’s for education, health care or business opportunities. Meanwhile, some regions already have access to multiple networks. The glaring contrast underscores the urgency of the goal to bridge the digital divide. We must not allow those who are still without access to broadband to be left behind again.

I urge our state’s decision-makers to keep this stark reality in mind. Universal connectivity is not a distant ideal; it is a pressing need for our state’s well-being and economic progress. By ensuring that our limited resources are directed toward those who need it most, we can uplift our communities, bridge income disparities and offer a lifeline to small-business owners. It’s time to address our residents’ daily challenges and work toward a more equitable and connected future for all Mainers.

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