March 11, 2020
Greetings Representative Gattine, Senator Breen and members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. My name is Andrew Butcher and I am the Director of Innovation & Resilience for the Greater Portland Council of Governments where I staff the Maine Broadband Coalition. As you may know the Maine Broadband Coalition (MBC) gives voice to internet users across the state to secure universal, affordable and equitable access to broadband connectivity that serves both current and future needs.
How we connect to each other is not just a question of how we get from “A” to “B” or how we make individual transactions online. How we connect with each other defines who we are now and who we are going to be. We need our Legislature to enable a future of increased connectivity, prosperity and livability. We need our Legislature to approve state funding to build and sustain 21st Century infrastructure like high-speed internet through any and all measures.
Before you now is the opportunity to ensure that our State Government commits the absolutely necessary - and overdue investment enabling increased connectivity now and in the future. This is not a one time investment. There are also multiple ways to commit state funds. Whether you approve bond funding through LD 2134 or approve budgetary allocations through LD 173 make no mistake - State investment in high-speed, reliable, and affordable internet is needed NOW.
Last year AARP’s Critical Insights poll revealed that 8 out of 10 Mainers support public investments in broadband. 80%! A recent GPCOG survey of 30 member communities revealed that broadband infrastructure is the single biggest economic development priority for the region.
Who among you hasn’t depended upon a reliable, fast internet connection to conduct any aspect of your professional life? Shouldn’t everyone in Maine be afforded that modern necessity? Unfortunately 15% of Mainers are without access to the reliable internet according to a 2020 Broadband Now report. (This is twice what the Federal Communications Commission) has estimated.
What will this dependency look like if schools, offices, health clinics, town halls or state capitals are forced to shutter with the spread of epidemic viruses like Covid-19? Places without reliable internet connection will be at a serious disadvantage amidst any kind of disruption.
Why the State doesn’t commit more money to internet infrastructure is perplexing as it is such a good business investment. Every dollar committed by the state yields a 3x return on investment through private capital and federal funds. Further, with the 2020 Maine Broadband Action plan we have a nationally recognized plan and staff at the Connect Maine Authority to ensure that every dollar yields maximum impact.
With hundreds of general members throughout the state and a growing Advisory Committee that includes AARP, CEI, Community Concepts Finance Corp, Educate Maine, GPCOG, GrowSmart Maine, The Island Institute, Maine West, The Maine Farmland Trust, The Maine Technology Users Group, The Northern Forest Center, The National Digital Equity Center and others - I advise you that now is the time to at least support LD 2134. Further - To ensure that funding for broadband be both immediate and sustained we encourage the committee to fully fund LD 173 as a part of the supplemental budget.