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New push for expanded high-speed internet in rural Maine

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PORTLAND — Maine ranks last in New England in access to high-speed internet, but a new push from state and federal leaders seeks to change that.

A proposal before the Maine Legislature would provide $15 million to ConnectME Authority, which seeks to bring broadband to more households in the state. The proposal, submitted by Democratic Sen. Erin Herbig of Belfast, received a public hearing Tuesday.

Also, officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills are expected to make an announcement Thursday in Arrowsic about new broadband investments around the state. USDA officials called the new push “a multimillion-dollar Reconnect Pilot Program investment.”

The pilot program provides grants and loans to improve broadband access in rural areas. The USDA funding will bring high-speed internet to more than 4,500 homes in Maine, officials with the agency said.

Maine’s 2020 Broadband Action Plan stated that more than 17,000 miles of the state are currently underserved by high-speed internet. That’s the length of about half the roads in Maine. It also states that more than 83,000 households in the state are underserved.

Herbig said the increase in funding to Connect ME would allow the authority to provide competitive broadband infrastructure grants to underserved communities around the state. The $15 million would serve as seed money to help communities get broadband projects started, the Maine Senate Democrats said in a statement. More than 100 communities in the state are waiting for broadband infrastructure grants, the Democrats said.

“High-speed, reliable internet cannot and should not be a luxury in this day and age. It’s essential for Maine students to get a quality education and compete in the workforce, and for businesses to grow and fully compete in the market,” Herbig said.

Herbig’s proposal will be the subject of work sessions in legislative committee meetings before moving on to the full Legislature for a potential vote.

Last modified on Tuesday, 04 February 2020 05:39

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