Resources for State Legislators
Broadband has value for all Maine Legislative Joint Standing Committees. See below for a brief description of how broadband relates to their goals:
Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
The lack of access to reliable, high-speed Internet service in Maine is a significant challenge for farms and other small natural-resource based businesses across the state, preventing them from growing and diversifying their operations. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of high-speed internet for these businesses, as they have had to increase their online business activities and/or pivot to using more online platforms to sell their products. The need for high-speed internet service in Maine will only increase in the future, not only to support these businesses, but to also provide the families behind them with access to important educational and communication resources.
Appropriations and Financial Affairs
If we learned anything as we adapted to life during the COVID 19 pandemic, it’s that broadband infrastructure is essential in every aspect of life. Adequate connectivity allowed students to continue their studies, kept a significant portion of the workforce employed, allowed the most vulnerable of our population to safely access healthcare and provided a means for virtual socialization – essential to our mental well-being during periods of physical isolation. Inadequate connectivity, on the other hand, halted those same essential functions for thousands of Mainers and ultimately created havoc for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Department of Economic and Community Development. The cost for a temporary ‘band-aid’ to get people connected was astronomical and would have been impossible without CARES funds from the federal government. As the overseers of Maine’s financial affairs, it’s important that the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee stay cognizant of the socio-economic cost of inadequate connectivity and thus, the importance of universal broadband in Maine as it considers appropriations and bond issues for 2021.
Criminal Justice and Public Safety
COVID has accelerated the digitalization of the economy as well as public services including criminal justice and public safety. Access to high-speed affordable broadband is essential infrastructure for digitalization to occur. A 2015 Rand study foresaw that digitalization will change how the criminal justice system operates. The study emphasized the need for better infrastructure especially for courts and corrections. It also foresaw the potential of video teleconferencing links for inmate communications and remote education.
These issues are still relevant for the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Currently law enforcement is increasingly realizing the need for reliable connectivity and digital tools for tasks ranging from checking the validity of a driver’s license, to using drones in crash investigations to taking detailed photographs that has enabled evidence to be gathered faster and roads to be opened quicker. FirstNetME is currently preparing Maine for the design, deployment and operation of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), the nation's first dedicated high-speed wireless broadband network for public safety.
Education and Cultural Affairs
Broadband is essential infrastructure for education in 2021. Just as our nation's roadways are foundational for commerce, broadband access is necessary for Maine's students to be able to complete coursework, collaborate on projects, and communicate with teachers. It is an essential ingredient for preparing students to succeed in the 21st century workplace. Inequitable access to broadband creates a disadvantage that hampers access to educational opportunities and therefore limits the ability for every Maine person to reach their highest potential. Your support in this area is critical if Maine is to prepare all of our citizens effectively for success in school and life.
Energy, Utilities and Technology
How we connect with each other matters. Now is the time for Maine to step up and modernize our high speed internet (broadband) infrastructure. 2020 and the Pandemic was the year when Mainers confronted just how much ALL Mainers need access to affordable, reliable, and fast internet. 2021 is the year when we confront challenges and make the public investments needed to allow all Mainers to work remotely, to learn from home, to visit with doctors remotely - but also to modernize our energy grid and embrace new technologies to leapfrog a generation of technology.
Environment and Natural Resources
Broadband is foundational to the progress and solutions Maine’s communities will consider as they fight the effects of climate change and grow our natural resources economies. Communities are installing smart grid technologies dependent on fiber backhaul to adapt to these changes and utilizing sea level rise software to demonstrate the state their coastline and essential community infrastructure will be in at varying degrees of sea level rise and coastal flooding. The natural resource sectors in Maine continue to utilize access to the internet to capture real time data that influences science recommendations, implement new technologies and communication channels to streamline process and procedure, and transition their exports to digital e-commerce platforms that extend their customer base beyond our state borders.
Government Oversight Committee (GOC)
Access to reliable high speed internet is critical to achieving the mission of the GOC to oversee program evaluation and government accountability matters in State government. The outreach required by this committee and the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) is achieved far more efficiently through use of email, internet searches, and at this point, virtual meetings. This is true as well for OPEGA to conduct independent, objective reviews of State agencies and programs and other entities receiving public funds or expending private monies for public purposes. In addition to this internal work, public engagement such as participation in public hearings and easily accessing completed reports is achieved effectively through statewide access to the internet through affordable high-speed connections.
Health and Human Services
The health care and long term care challenges faced by rural Mainers before the COVID 19 pandemic became even more clear in 2020. Access to speciality care often means driving long distances for treatments and consultations. We saw an unprecedented expansion of telehealth due to the pandemic, but for many, this option is unavailable due to lack of access to high speed internet. The vaccine roll out has shown us how difficult it has been for older Mainers living in rural areas without internet access to sign up and get information about vaccine distribution. The pandemic also highlighted the epidemic of loneliness impacting many Americans. During this time, older Mainers have become increasingly isolated as they can no longer go to the Y, their local library, etc. Many of these individuals have no internet access. Ensuring every Mainer has access to affordable, reliable internet will allow for more social connection which will have a positive impact on both physical and mental health. It should also be noted that access to the internet has been hugely critical to family caregivers who are trying to stay connected to their loved ones both in long term care facilities and at home.
Health Coverage, Insurance, and Financial Services
Covid has accelerated the digitalization of the economy, including the health, insurance and financial services industries. Digitalization can improve the impact and efficiency of all these industries, but it requires essential high-speed affordable and reliable broadband infrastructure for all its customers and providers.
Some examples of how digitalization affects the HIFS committee:
Promotes the transparency of healthcare cost and quality information via a publicly accessible website, and Compare Maine helps consumers assess costs and quality of healthcare among providers and can help patients decide where to receive care.
Expanded use of telehealth will likely continue beyond Covid but requires that providers and patients have reliable internet.
Financial institutions can reduce costs and provide comprehensive information to business and consumer customers more efficiently if all parties are connected to reliable internet.
Insurance industry customers, especially younger generations, are increasingly expecting online transactions. According to McKenzie, automation can reduce the cost of a claims journey by 30%.
Universal broadband access is essential infrastructure for small businesses and entrepreneurs. The state Economic Recovery Committee recommendations cite the necessity of consistent, reliable, affordable high-speed internet to implement the state’s 10-year Economic Development Strategy to grow talent, foster innovation and accelerate growth in key economic sectors. The IDEA committee’s very ability to support economic planning and development, workforce recruitment and training, import regulation and replacement, and marketing initiatives to bolster participation in domestic and international trade and commerce, depends on this tool. Universal access to broadband is critical to consumers and communities. Without adequate and affordable broadband, households and families can’t complete education and job training, telework, or receive telehealth and other key services even if hospitals, health care and other businesses and educational institutions are able to deliver such services. Meanwhile, to support people who currently live and work in Maine, and attract new residents and families, and to encourage continued innovation among Maine’s diverse and innovative entrepreneurs, including licensed professionals and artisans, in myriad sectors ranging statewide from retail to real estate, to tourism and transportation, broadband is critical.
Inland Fisheries & Wildlife
Lack of access to reliable, high-speed internet access throughout Maine is a challenge Maine’s residents, businesses, and visitors shouldn’t have to face. To ensure our inland fisheries and wildlife remain supported and accessible to all sportspersons, scientists, and residents, it is critical that the necessary information and resources are inclusive and available to all. Access to reliable internet provides this access to permits, licenses, safety courses, and wildlife management maps and plans. The ability to pay fees online reduces the barriers to securing access to our inland fisheries and wildlife areas, while supporting the statewide economy. During a time when offices are restricted and Mainers seek the security of the outdoors, equitable internet access keeps the systems in place.
Any infrastructure that is a foundational element of civilization and society, that is necessary, valid and sustainable is a fundamental right for the public. Broadband infrastructure is just that. It is specifically linked to the ability to earn a living, resulting in all members of our society to participate in facets of society (health, education, justice). It is a civil rights issue. It is a matter of equal access. Hence, your support is an integral part of Maine’s drive towards ensuring 21st century infrastructure for its current and future citizens.
Labor and Housing
With the shifts we’ve seen in the workforce over the last year, there is no denying the value of reliable, high-speed internet when it comes to having diverse, adaptable workers no matter the job. Access to broadband provides the opportunity for those in the job market to search, evaluate, and apply for jobs state and nationwide. They also have the ability to expand their expertise and credentials through online trainings, webinars, and continuing education opportunities. In the last year, we saw online opportunities for credentials of value grow substantially and barriers to access decrease for those unable to commit to travel or high in-person costs.
Access to affordable housing for Maine’s workforce and residents continues to be a path forward for broadband expansion. Ensuring all Mainers have access at their home, regardless of location, is fundamental to broadband efforts in Maine. This access not only provides residents the opportunity to work remotely and utilize the internet for secondary sources or income, but they can also access information on improved housing opportunities and resources for finding accommodations that fit their needs. As more tools, resources, and supports transition to online-based platforms, not having access to broadband can leave residents struggling to take advantage of the opportunities their state and community have to offer.
When we can no longer rely on in-person transactions to support our local small businesses, we turn to the internet to take action. The opportunities access to reliable, high-speed internet provides for Maine’s diverse fishing and aquaculture businesses took center stage this past year as fishermen and dealers depended on the digital economy to sustain their enterprise. From setting up drop locations and selling products on social media platforms to building and marketing their added value products beyond the coast of Maine, the benefits of broadband access kept the working waterfront working and a pillar within the state’s economy bountiful. This expansion of digital e-commerce won’t fade away in our fisheries. Beyond buying and selling, the marine industry will continue to see growth in the reliance on the internet as online permit purchasing, reporting, remote participation in regional meetings, and opportunities and equipment for remote monitoring fisheries and aquaculture are prioritized.
State and Local Government
When we can no longer rely on in-person meetings for local government business and affairs we are reliant upon reliable, fast, and affordable internet to achieve our civil and civic duties. The dependency local government has on high-speed internet took center stage this past year requiring all levels of government - big and small to reinvent how business is done. Whether it is hosting a town hall meeting, committee discussion, or even notarizing official documents local government agencies will continue to be reliant upon digital services to address the needs of an increasingly digital citizenry. To address this growing demand we will need a 21st century broadband infrastructure that will both enable more efficient governmental services and citizen participation.
There is a direct correlation between investments in the State’s transportation infrastructure and the digital infrastructure (Broadband) of the 21 century. Accessible, affordable, high speed internet diminishes the burden on our roadways and transit systems as more people work remotely, utilize telehealth services and learn online. Further, the opportunity to effectively utilize the public right of way to maximize the public benefit can stretch public dollars to increase public benefit. Additionally as more governmental services shift towards a virtual offering - internet availability and reliability will be increasingly critical to reduce costs and maximize benefit.
COVID has accelerated the digitalization of the economy including public tax agencies. Digitalization can improve the impact and efficiency of tax collection and oversight, but it requires connectivity. Access to high-speed affordable broadband is essential infrastructure for digitalization to occur. Taxation policy is one tool to target broadband investment to specific areas of Maine. Federal tax policy has influenced how and where private companies invest in broadband. States have also proposed tax policy to incentivize investment in broadband in unserved and underserved areas. Special assessments can also be used to pay for broadband in a town or specific district.
Veterans and Legal Affairs
Affordable and reliable high-speed broadband has become essential infrastructure for enabling the increasing digitalization of the economy, which includes public services. Yet many of Maine’s rural areas have very poor, unreliable connectivity. For veterans, access to telehealth, remote learning, and remote work are all critical, particularly during Covid. Although the VA is increasing the use of telehealth for veterans, not all veterans have reliable internet to take advantage of it. Nor can they all afford computers or have the digital literacy to use them despite online classes available from The National Digital Equity Center serving all of Maine. Similarly, the American Bar Association says that access to dependable high-speed internet is “critical to improving access to justice for Americans living in rural communities. Without adequate high-speed internet, attorneys and self-represented litigants in rural areas face extremely high barriers, and these communities cannot attract new lawyers. The result is a pressing access to justice issue.” Another important reason for good connectivity relevant to the committee is voting rights: the ability to request and track absentee ballots, as well as the potential for online voting.