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Broadband-Bill Sponsors Hope to Improve Maine’s Internet

Maine ranked as the most rural state in the nation in 2010, according to census data. This has posed a challenge in bringing high-speed internet to much of the state. (Henry Gartley/Pixabay)
Maine ranked as the most rural state in the nation in 2010, according to census data. This has posed a challenge in bringing high-speed internet to much of the state. (Henry Gartley/Pixabay)
January 21, 2020

AUGUSTA, Maine -- Backers of two broadband bills hope to improve the state of internet service in Maine, one of the most rural states in the country. A general bill encouraging the development of broadband coverage in rural Maine will get a public hearing this morning at the Statehouse.

State Senator Shenna Bellows is sponsoring LD 1563, called the Maine Broadband Initiative, and the legislation to fund it, which gets a hearing later this month. For Bellows, internet access is a personal issue.

"I grew up without electricity and running water when I was a kid," Bellows said. "Today, if you're a kid growing up without internet, you're at a similar disadvantage."

Bellows led a similar effort to improve broadband access in 2017 - and it passed, but then failed to get enough funding to move forward in a tough budget year. In 2017, the plan needed just over $6 million. Today's initiative asks for $15 million, in part because infrastructure costs have risen.

According to the latest census data, fewer households in Maine have internet than any other state in New England. Spectrum announced at the end of 2018 it would help bring high-speed internet to 650,000 homes and businesses in Maine.

But Bellows said public investment is still necessary to expand broadband here.

"In rural communities, an entirely private-sector model of investment is simply not viable," she said. "There needs to be a public-private partnership."

Gov. Janet Mills has said she supports the broadband initiative. Today's hearing will begin at 10 a.m. The funding bill, LD 2021, will get a hearing January 28, also at 10 a.m.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME