by Stephenie MacLagan of ConnectMaine
You know what's hard to do in this pandemic? Maintain contact with our fellow Mainers who have insufficient internet to ask them to try taking a speed test. These tests can also be taken on a cellphone or submitted from another location that has public WiFi like a public library. But spreading the word is what the Maine Broadband Coalition has been hard at work doing anyway.
“All Mainers, even those with sufficient internet, should be taking the Maine speed test as often as possible,” says Clara McCool, member of Maine Broadband Coalition.
Understanding where there is and where there isn't broadband availability helps state officials get enough funds to the right places. The State of Maine Broadband Action Plan estimates that over 83,000 households lack even basic internet service, and to expand broadband statewide could cost about $600 million.
The ConnectMaine Authority, the state entity that supports investments in broadband expansion, is calling on all Mainers to participate in the Maine speed testing initiative. Speed tests not only help illustrate where broadband is already available, it also can illustrate the demand for broadband. Along roads where the density of potential subscribers is lower, it's hard to justify the upfront cost of expansion.
Private internet service providers expand their broadband networks where it makes economic sense for their business plans. These companies need to know there's a high number of potential subscribers to ensure a return on their investment from building out broadband infrastructure. The speed tests can also help the state understand the relationship between premise density and economic feasibility of expansion.
“Supporting public-private partnerships that expand broadband beyond where the market would otherwise serve is at the core of what ConnectMaine does,” says Nick Battista, Chair of the ConnectMaine Authority.
Speed tests can show demand and attract an internet service provider to partner with the community to expand broadband. Across Maine, internet service providers and communities are coming together to apply for state grants to help support broadband expansion. Speed tests can show that the project areas are eligible to receive grant funds because of poor or no service.
“Local leaders can also use the Maine speed testing initiative as a way to engage their community in understanding the challenges of poor internet service. This community engagement process identifies the economic and social opportunities that a high-quality internet connection can bring. More engagement from more citizens can demonstrate local support that is needed for broadband expansion,” says Peggy Schaffer, ConnectMaine Executive Director.
Through community engagement, local leaders can ascertain what priorities their residents are willing to fund, and how broadband is a piece of that puzzle. Community members can join local committees and provide hands in the work of assessing the internet assets already present in the community. Besides supporting political will to fund broadband solutions, an engaged community can also ensure a higher subscription rate when broadband is expanded.
For universal broadband in Maine, we need community engagement, strong demand and wise state spending. Participating in the Maine speed testing initiative contributes to all three. Please take the Maine speed test.