Legislative Update: 1st Regular Session of the 129th Legislative Session

By Nancy Smith:  GrowSmart Maine

One of the most significant advances for broadband in Maine this year was a significant increase in operating funds for ConnectME.  The recently passed budget included a change in the E- 911 assessment that is currently on phone bills. The current assessment of 45 cents per line will be split to 35 cents for E-911 and the remaining 10 cents for ConnectME. This change takes place in January of 2020 and will result in approximately $1.9 million in additional funds per calendar year, or an additional revenue stream of about $150,000 per month to ConnectME, starting in February of 2020.  The PUC will re- evaluate the change assessment in January of 2022.

If a significant bond is passed by the legislature this year for broadband expansion, part of these new funds will be used to administer the bonds- including verification of applications, testing and monitoring of awardees.  If a bond is not passed, ConnectME can use the funds to beef up our mapping and provide additional support to communities and ISP’s seeking to build out broadband in unserved parts of the state.

Another priority for this year is a significant bond issue to fund community-driven infrastructure investments.  There were several legislative proposals to do this and the Governor included $30 million for broadband in the economic development portion of her comprehensive bond package.  However, the legislature adjourned without passing any bond proposals. Discussions are continuing between the administration and the legislature, and if they can reach agreement, there may be a Special Session late summer or early fall to pass such a bond.  Timing of when a broadband bond would be put before Maine voters would be determined as part of that process.

Note this summary reflects the final outcomes of bills as amended and finally passed.

LD 31  An Act Regarding Rules Adopted by the ConnectME Authority changed the designation of rules adopted by the ConnectME Authority from major substantive to routine technical. This will allow the Authority to better respond to changing technology while still ensuring appropriate public process.

LD 147 An Act To Extend Internet Availability in Rural Maine adds language to the law governing the telecommunications education access fund specifying that the use of the fund for Internet access includes mobile Internet access through a portable wireless access point, or hotspot, that provides Internet access over a cellular network. It does so within the existing funding structure.

LD 854 An Act To Improve Tax Incentives for Broadband Service expands the allowable use of tax increment financing to include development, expansion or improvement of broadband services, including connecting to broadband service outside the tax increment financing district and allows for such in residential areas within the municipality.

LD 1063 An Act To Support the Role of Municipalities in Expanding Broadband Infrastructure recognizes broadband Internet as a public necessity and designates a community broadband system or part of that system as a revenue-producing municipal facility. It allows a municipality to construct, maintain and operate a municipal or multi-municipal system composed of infrastructure capable of being utilized by communications service providers for the provision of communications services.

LD 1192 An Act To Establish Municipal Access to Utility Poles Located in Municipal Rights-of-way exempts a municipality from pole attachment fees to accommodate the municipality’s attaching its facilities for a governmental purpose consistent with the police power of the municipality or for the purpose of providing broadband service to an unserved or underserved area.

LD 1206 An Act Regarding Utility Poles in Public Rights-of-way adds language to the law governing the safety and convenience of highways, town ways and streets to specify that utility poles and facilities are not defects in the public way, in order to relieve municipal officials from liability for utility poles and facilities in the public way. The amendment also directs the Public Utilities Commission to report to the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology in January 20