2021 Broadband Policy Priorities Gaining Traction
In January the Maine Broadband Coalition’s Policy committee proposed a few critical priorities for the legislative season to be further ratified by the larger Advisory Committee. Those priorities boiled down to:
More public funding for broadband in Maine to connect everyone.
Make it easier to implement broadband investments and infrastructure.
We are making good progress but need to stay vigilant and fully engaged amidst a full (and complicated) legislative season.
Focus on a Broadband Bond next year: After 75% of the voters approved Maine’s first Broadband bond in 2020 enabling $15M of funding to match additional private and federal funding - we began working with Senator Rick Bennett even before the legislative session started, to craft a $100M bond proposal LD1235. These State funds have a critical role in matching and leveraging federal and private funding and demonstrating that Maine is willing to invest in its future. With an influx of federal funding through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) this year - accelerating systems change in Maine on multiple levels - we have requested that the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee carry the $100M Bond Proposal over to next year’s session.
While ARP funds represent an unprecedented investment with potential to transform broadband infrastructure in the State - the current funds alone won’t be enough to address the State’s connectivity needs estimated at over $600M and details on how they can be invested are still unknown. Bond funding through the State serves as a critical resource to match federal resources and aligns with the goals and priorities set by legislators and regulators in Maine. We will need to keep our shoulder to the wheel in 2022.
MAKE IT EASIER (AND BETTER):
Aim Higher: Let Connect Maine know that you support defining the future as they redefine broadband as 100/100 Mbps and 50/10 mbps to define unserved/underserved areas. Such changes will help prioritize funding availability in the geographies in most need of better connectivity - and is a much more appropriate target given current demands for high speed internet.
Share your support with Connect Maine to set a new standard in Maine by contributing comments to: Connect.ME@maine.gov with the subject "Public Comment."
Clarify and simplify pole attachment roles and responsibilities: Most people don’t really think that much about utility poles, even though they are the most ubiquitous vertical structure in the world. How telecommunications companies access those poles is a key element in building out better broadband. This Coalition initiative, led by Tilson, GWI and Axiom crafted strategy and language to amend LD 1219 directing the Public Utilities Commission to conduct a proceeding to enable a third party administrator to maximize efficiency of utility pole management. This is a huge step forward to improving an onerous and costly process, that will lower broadband user costs and increase speed of new installations..
More muscle, brains, and partnerships: We have a profound opportunity to transform how Maine invests in future prosperity with LD 1484 through development of a new Maine Connectivity Authority. The new Authority will serve as the primary mechanism for investing and managing $150M in broadband infrastructure including the potential to own and finance middle-mile dark fiber as well as encourage open access community networks.
This new agency will provide a strong institutional structure, organizational capacity and appropriate accountability to ensure that unserved and underserved communities in urban and rural settings are connected, and that opportunities for competition will activate affordable consumer options and a thriving industry in Maine. As the bill is reviewed and discussed by the Energy, Utilities, and Technology committee the Broadband Coalition will continue to work with the Mills Administration, bill sponsors Sen. Rick Bennett (R - Oxford) and Representative Seth Berry (D - Bowdoinham), and other stakeholders to make this vision for Maine’s future a reality.