Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, speaks about funding for broadband infrastructure at a press conference at Coastal Enterprises, Inc. in Brunswick. (Nathan Strout / The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — Maine’s internet is agonizingly slow.

According to 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Maine ranks 49th for broadband speed with an average speed of just 23.8 megabits per second (Mbps). In communities like Georgetown and Bowdoinham, it’s even worse.

“We really have to have a high quality, dependable high-speed internet to be competitive today,” said Pingree Wednesday in Brunswick, where she sought to highlight the United States Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, which will be doling out $600 million in grants and loans to help build broadband infrastructure in rural communities with low internet speeds or no internet service at all.

Pingree, who hails from the island community of North Haven where she owns the Nebo Lodge Inn & Restaurant, said that the internet is essential to her business there. It’s used for everything from bookings to advertising. Other businesses use internet access for payment processing, ordering supplies, downloading and uploading vast amounts of information and reaching out to customers.

“Maine should be the state that is tailor-made for accepting these grants,” said Pingree.

ReConnect is targeting rural communities where 90 percent or more of households have internet speeds of 10 Mbps or less. Projects that are approved by the program are expected to increase internet speeds 25 Mbps. For communities like Georgetown and Arrowsic, that fits the bill.

Carlos Barrionuevo, co-owner of the Robinhood Free Meetinghouse and a member of The Three Bridged Islands Broadband Task Force, said that he was hopeful the federal funding could help bring faster internet speeds to Georgetown and the surrounding area.

The Three Bridged Islands Broadband Task Force is working to find ways to bring faster broadband to Georgetown, Arrowsic and Southport. But building out the infrastructure necessary to make that happen is expensive, and the effort has been stymied by a lack of grant funding. The $600 million available through the ReConnect Program could change that, meaning that The Three Bridged Islands Broadband Task Force doesn’t have to pursue costly loans that it may have trouble paying back.

“We are really optimistic,” said Carlos. “We’re really excited that this money is coming down the pipeline.”

Pingree encouraged Maine groups to look into the federal funding.

“These projects are happening all across the state,” said Peggy Schaffer with the Maine Broadband Coalition. “They’re happening in Stonington. They’re happening in Dixfield. They’re happening in Fort Kent. This kind of money can be really helpful to boost these communities up.”

“We should be a poster child for this,” said Pingree.

Applications are due April 19.

[email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: