Want Better Broadband Maine? Speak Now!
There has never been more energy around better broadband in Maine than in 2015. South Portland recently announced that its municipal network was coming online, Islesboro voted to spend $200,000 designing and planning for a municipal broadband network, and in the Maine Legislature, a handful of important bills have passed out of committee and will be coming to the House and Senate floors for debate. Two of these bills, in particular, are important to accelerating progress toward better connections – important enough that we’re asking our readers to talk to their Legislators and Support them.
LD 1063 – An Act To Promote Community Broadband Planning and Strengthen Economic Opportunity throughout Maine
What it is:
This bi-partisan bill, co-sponsored by Democratic Representative Sara Gideon and Republican Senator Garrett Mason, would restructure the ConnectME Authority, Maine’s state agency for broadband issues. Previously, ConnectME has primarily focused on providing small grants to extend service to pockets of un-served homes. Under LD-1063, ConnectME would take on more of a planning and leadership role, with the following key responsibilities:
- Establish criteria for served and unserved areas.
- Promote the use of broadband.
- Support local and regional broadband planning.
- Facilitate state support of broadband deployment.
- Collect and disseminate information about broadband use.
Why this bill is important:
The past policy of making small, incremental investments in DSL and fixed wireless to patch holes in Maine’s existing broadband network can no longer keep Maine competitive. Replacing Maine’s aging broadband infrastructure will likely require over a billion dollars from public and private sources and take several years to complete. Unwilling to wait, several Maine communities have already taken action to improve broadband access for their citizens, but there has been a void of public leadership and expertise to help ensure that these individual investments will work together well and not waste resources that could be saved through coordination and planning.
A ConnectME Authority with greater technical expertise and the specific mission to help plan and support local investment can help manage these local investments in the context of a statewide broadband strategic plan, so that such pitfalls are avoided. We believe that this bill is vital.
LD 1185 – An Act to Establish the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Network Access Fund
What it is:
This bill, sponsored by Republican Representative Norm Higgins would create the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Network Fund to provide grants to communities, regional partnerships and municipalities in support of public-private partnerships to support municipal gigabit fiber-optic networks. These grants would include $20-25,000 planning grants to help underwrite the community’s cost of gathering information and developing a local broadband plan, including:
- Identification of local broadband needs and goals.
- Inventory of existing broadband infrastructure.
- An analysis of additional infrastructure needed to meet needs and goals.
- Network designs, cost estimates and operating models in support of the additional infrastructure.
- An evaluation of the impact of local policies, procedures and rules on the speed and cost of broadband deployment.
The Fund would also include implementation grants of up to $200,000 to communities to offset the costs of implementing a broadband plan that meets the goals defined for the planning grant, provided that the municipality puts in a minimum 25% cash match.
It’s important to note that for LD 1185 to succeed, it must both be passed into law and funded by the legislature because it calls for $6 million in funds from the General Fund.
Why this bill is important:
Of all the bills currently before the Maine Legislature, LD 1185 makes the most serious attempt at funding the actual construction of new broadband fiber networks in Maine. Although the numbers it promises are small in relation to the overall problem, it could have a big impact when used in combination with local, federal and private funds.
Broadband in Maine Needs Your Help!
If you want to see a better broadband network and a brighter economic future for our state, please email or call your legislators today and ask them to support LD-1063 and LD-1185 (See comments for June 5 Update). If you’re not sure who your legislators are, you can find complete lists of Maine State Senators and Maine State Representatives online.
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