AUGUSTA — A legislative panel has unanimously rejected a measure that would have made it difficult for Maine towns and cities to build their own high speed networks when existing cable and telephone companies decline to provide upgraded service.

The Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee voted 12-0 against the bill Wednesday, effectively killing it. Even the lawmaker who introduced the bill, Rep. Nate Wadsworth, R-Hiram, turned against it a day after a hearing where officials from municipalities across the state condemned the measure.

Sanford, South Portland, Islesboro, and Rockport are among the Maine communities now building their own high speed networks. Representatives from all four towns testified before the committee Tuesday that the bill would have greatly complicated their efforts to build their own fiber networks after incumbent internet providers declined to do so.

“I was relieved and reassured to hear of the unanimous vote to stop this bill,” said Islesboro resident Page Clason, who has helped oversee the island community’s ongoing deployment of a publicly financed network. The system would boost most residents’ internet speeds by more than 300-fold in the hopes of spurring economic development and boosting the year-round population.

“The people in Maine’s small rural communities would have been left without a future if this bill had passed,” Clason said. “The legislators did the right thing by leaving the choice of how to solve the problem in the hands of the local people.”

Critics had also said the bill was an effort by major national internet providers to stymie competition, even in rural markets where they declined to provide adequate high-speed service.


The measure was modeled on a bill developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a national organization of conservative lawmakers and private sector leaders who promote model legislation in state houses across the country. Wadsworth serves as ALEC’s Maine co-chairman, alongside Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Newport.

Cushing, who also serves on the organization’s national board, is a member of the legislative energy committee but was absent from both Wednesday’s vote and Tuesday’s public hearing.

Wadsworth did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The bill would have imposed numerous restrictions on municipalities that wanted to invest in their own network or to form a public-private partnership to build one they can lease. These include mandatory feasibility studies and public referendum provisions, prohibitions on using municipal funds, restrictions on using funds through a bond issue or setting rates, and the removal of anti-trust liability protections for town’s that offer broadband.

While ALEC claims to be a nonpartisan professional association for state legislators, critics say it is really a corporate-funded conduit allowing businesses to write legislation for compliant lawmakers. Virtually all of its funding comes from its corporate members, and its telecoms committee – which created the organization’s anti-municipal broadband bill – has counted many of the major cable and telephone companies as members, including Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Cox. A vice president of their industry association, Rick Cimerman, is the committee’s current corporate chair.

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