Updated: Nov 17
Dear Senator Collins,
We write to you today to underscore the importance of the Affordable Connectivity Program’s (ACP) renewal not just as a matter of lowering barriers to affordable broadband access, but as a driver for positive economic, social, and societal impact in communities across Maine. 92,984 of a possible 238,717 homes have enrolled in the program to date - over 25,000 since January this year - and an estimated $26 million in subsidies has flowed into our state to help these households connect to the internet - some for the very first time.
According to a report by Education Superhighway in 2022, 34% of ACP eligible households did not have a home internet connection. In August of 2023, after months of outreach from organizations across the country, data from their organization’s ACP application tool indicated 1 in 4 applicants did not have home internet when they first applied. Though their research isn’t broken down by state, it’s safe to assume that thousands of households in Maine have only been recently connected to the internet by way of the Affordable Connectivity Program.
These statistics are significant because they represent thousands of neighbors, families, and friends who are now able to access and participate in the digital world. For some this means the ability to connect with and maintain relationships with loved ones who live in other places, for others it can bring on increased opportunities for educational advancement or professional development - but for all Mainers, access to affordable, high-speed internet connectivity opens up a wider spectrum of possibilities for our lives and livelihoods.
Projecting into the future, a Maine that has sufficient broadband infrastructure and achieved its digital equity goals will host communities from the Downeast to our western mountains that are vibrant with economic opportunity while boasting the quality of life that makes our state so special. Craftspeople will be able to engage in ecommerce, farmers can deploy precision farming techniques, and writers can put together the script of their dreams. On a more practical level, our state - the oldest state in the nation - will have the necessary infrastructure to provide adequate telehealthcare so that our eldest neighbors won’t have to travel hours to get the care they need.
In the same way that Mainers should not have to choose between living in the communities they love or in a place with better broadband infrastructure, access to the opportunities brought on by high-quality connectivity must not be predicated on a household’s ability to afford a connection. Organizations across the state are working hard to help families that cannot afford a broadband connection sign up for the FCC ACP subsidy. No Mainer should be left behind, unable to participate in our digital economy, because they cannot afford a broadband connection.
Supporting people in need to get online also pays dividends for Maine’s internet providers and the economy overall. This is why so many internet service providers in Maine and members of our business community support the ACP. When internet service providers can be confident that residents can afford a connection, they’re more likely to build and upgrade their networks to reach unserved rural areas. This stretches both private and public investments further, and connects more Mainers to high-quality service. And when everyone’s online, we all benefit, as telehealth, distance learning, online shopping and remote work opportunities open up to all of us.
When we talk about closing the digital divide much of our conversation centers around what systems, mechanisms, or infrastructure need to be created or maintained and how we get there - and indeed, the ACP plays a role in that - yet the question of why it matters too often goes unspoken or unaddressed. In reality, we can build out our state with the best infrastructure available, but if Maine households cannot afford to connect to the fiber line that runs by their front door, can we really say that we’ve closed the digital divide?
Myles Smith, Executive Director, Maine Broadband Coalition
Susan Corbett, Executive Director, National Digital Equity Center
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