Broadband Internet access is the holy grail of telecommunications technology, for many more reasons than accessing YouTube.

Swift, reliable access to the Web drives a thousand forms of commerce, to the point where a business without a website almost might as well be operating from a sidewalk pushcart as a bricks-and-mortar store.

That’s important in commercial centers, but it’s also important in cities, smaller towns and rural areas — and Maine has far more of the latter than the former.

Entrepreneurs and their customers and clients can now live anywhere, but this phenomenal change in how business operates doesn’t work without broadband, however it’s provided.

Which is why one of the conditions Maine’s Public Utilities Commission placed on FairPoint Communications when it purchased the state’s landline service from Verizon in 2008 was that the company assure that 83 percent of its Maine customers had access to DSL broadband service by the end of this year. That goal is an intermediate step toward the five-year target of 87 percent coverage by the end of 2013.

That goal was originally 90 percent, but the PUC approved a reduction when the company ran into financial trouble shortly after the purchase.

Turns out, while the company is still saying it will meet the 83 percent goal by Dec. 31 , the PUC is still deciding how it will know if that claim is true.

FairPoint says it has invested $27 million into broadband expansion here, but is adding new connections daily and won’t know the exact number for the year until Dec. 31 arrives.

Utility commissioners held a meeting last week to see if they could find a way to “trust, but verify” FairPoint’s numbers, and ended up giving the company a week’s extension.

If FairPoint fails to meet its 2013 goal, the PUC has a penalty built into its agreement: The company will default to the original goal of 90 percent coverage (totaling about 15,000 more homes) — at the company’s expense.

That difference in numbers is what makes this intermediate deadline important: If FairPoint can’t make this number, it will likely have a hard time catching up.

And the goal is too important to Maine’s economic future for that to happen without a significant penalty.

So, it’s good to know the PUC is keeping a sharp eye on FairPoint. The state’s economy deserves no less.