by Nancy Smith for GrowSmart Maine
Though I am not a planner, as the head of GrowSmart Maine, I have worked with planners for more than ten years. In that time, there has been nothing more transformative than the State’s plan to extend internet access across Maine. We have been involved with the Maine Broadband Coalition since its inception because of the land use implications that will impact Maine’s ability to build lasting prosperity without sacrificing the quality of life that defines Maine.
Affordable internet access does not guarantee a sustainable future, but the lack of it will stymie any other efforts to positively advance economic opportunities for all. At the same time, planners are mindful of the potential for creating sprawl as we extend broadband infrastructure. Bringing internet access to existing homes and businesses, most likely on those utility lines running along rural roadways beside undeveloped land, increases the potential for new residential or commercial development far outside of a town or city center, be it a quiet village center, a vibrant historic downtown or the heart of a city. But there are smart growth tools municipalities can use to encourage sustainable growth while accommodating demand for internet access.
The Press Herald Policy Matters series has launched with a focus on broadband, including an informative forum on March 23rd. GrowSmart Maine, a sponsor of this year-long series, is following up by diving into the potential for more broadband with less sprawl in a free webinar on March 30th, from 4-5 pm that will highlight tools your community can use.
As outlined in our Community Guide The Creeping Cost of Sprawl, the risks of this kind of growth can be significant for our economy and environment, municipal budgets, personal wellness and quality of life. GrowSmart is updating the data presented in this piece, yet the underlying premise remains valid - the incremental “creeping cost” of low-density development often goes unrecognized until it’s too late to reverse the damage.
What can you do beyond participating in these two forums? There’s no cost to becoming a member of the Maine Broadband Coalition where you can learn more about the status of broadband in your community and to keep up to date on our advocacy efforts in Augusta. In addition, take the internet speed test as we crowdsource current speeds to better define where infrastructure investments are needed. The map is updated with each new test and the statewide results are fascinating.