In every corner of Maine, broadband is a significant tool for sustainable economic development, improved medical care, aging-in-place strategies, expanding education opportunities and reversing negative demographic shifts. High-speed internet isn’t the end goal; rather, broadband is a critical tool that will help the state and our communities solve these challenges.

Service providers and, recently, municipalities are making significant investments to improve Maine’s broadband infrastructure. Even with these investments, it is clear that market forces alone will not provide broadband for Maine’s rural communities. Companies make capital investments in infrastructure where it will be profitable for the company. In rural Maine, there are too few customers per mile to support most business models. Relying on market forces has only deepened the digital divide, created a system of networks that don’t connect well to each other and left much of rural Maine without access to true broadband internet or even a reasonable hope of getting high-speed internet this decade.

Fortunately, Maine is well positioned to make a significant leap forward in expanding broadband access to every resident. With clear statewide leadership from the next governor and Legislature, Mainers will have the reliable, high-speed internet they need to survive in an increasingly global economy.

Developing a new vision for how to bridge the digital divide – one that is based on the benefits broadband brings to Maine – and backing that vision through fostering an environment of sophisticated leadership are both critical to addressing Maine’s broadband challenges. The foundational principle for this vision must be based on providing high-quality, high-speed internet that is available in every community.

Sophisticated leadership requires the articulation and promotion of aspirational goals for broadband in Maine as an integral part of an overall economic strategy. High-level aspirational goals also need to be translated into actionable and measurable outcomes that can drive efficient and effective implementation. Sophisticated leadership also needs to unify the variety of interests, constituents and challenges and get the best from everyone and for everyone. There is no one technological solution that will fix Maine’s broadband challenge; we need leadership who recognizes that our diverse challenges will require a diversity of solutions.

Implicit in the idea of establishing a vision and providing strong leadership for implementing that vision is acquiring the necessary funding. This means identifying, coordinating and securing multiple sources of funds for broadband network expansion, adoption and equipment. It also means ensuring public money is wisely and carefully invested to effectively support achieving this vision.

At the same time, it is not enough to just build the infrastructure – Mainers must also be able to use it. Seniors and small-business owners alike can benefit from training and education about how to effectively incorporate and use broadband in their lives.

To unlock the power of public investment in broadband, Mainers should be able to: (1) choose and purchase the broadband services they need and want; (2) benefit from the expanded opportunities provided by broadband, because they have the necessary education, skills and training; and (3) acquire the equipment needed regardless of financial capabilities.

Only when these benefits are widely available can communities be more livable and sustainable and our economy more prosperous. Securing these benefits is fundamentally a public role, and Maine needs strong statewide leadership to bring a unified purpose to this effort.

High-speed, reliable internet is no longer optional. Our three organizations are committed to a positive, aspirational vision for the state based on all Mainers having the access and ability to use broadband. We hope you are, too.