The internet is integrated into everything we do. It’s no longer something you log onto here and there, but a constant feature — a portal through which nearly every part of our lives is organized and operated.

As such, it’s not a luxury — in fact, it’s hard to see it as anything but a necessity anymore. For doing business. For staying in touch with friends and family. For receiving health care and an education. For participating in democracy.

That’s why we support a “yes” vote on Question 1 on the July 14 statewide ballot, which sets aside $15 million to invest in high-speed internet in areas of the state where it is unavailable.

That’s also why the state should continue to help fund these projects beyond this bond until fast, affordable internet is available in each corner of the state, and to every resident.

THREAT TO SURVIVAL

The problem is indisputable. By one estimate, more than 83,000 Maine households have a low-speed internet connection or no connection at all. The households are located almost solely throughout the most rural parts of the state, where the loss of people and jobs over the last few decades has stunted economic growth.

Where there is no high-speed connection, businesses can’t send or receive large files easily, or connect with customers or vendors. Health care providers forced to cover large areas in rural Maine have trouble connecting with patients. Students can’t participate in remote learning, and don’t have immediate access to all the resources their peers do. Residents can’t work remotely, or stream the meetings of their local government, or even their favorite shows.

All of it combines to make rural Maine a more difficult place to live and work. It forces people born there to consider moving to areas with more opportunity, and it makes the areas less attractive to prospective businesses, residents and visitors.

In short, it is a threat to their survival.

Maine’s rural communities know it, too. But they’ve got little help from the private sector. Because there are too few potential customers, it doesn’t make financial sense for private internet providers to build the necessary infrastructure in these areas.

PLANS READY

In response, many communities have come up with plans of their own, typically using a combination of funding — local, state, federal, nonprofit and private — to give their residents access to high-speed internet.

The ConnectMaine Authority, the state entity charged with increasing broadband access, was created to provide funding and support to these communities. In the last 12 years, the group has awarded around $12 million in grants to 144 projects, extending internet access to nearly 40,000 households.

They’ve also issued planning grants totaling nearly half a million dollars to communities who want to figure out what they need when it comes to internet service, and the best way to get it.

According to ConnectMaine, more than 50 communities have already done this work and are ready to move forward with a project.

There are also communities throughout the state where providers are trying to fill in smaller gaps where fast internet is not available.

However, both kinds of projects need funding.

FUNDING NEEDED

The $15 million bond would leverage up to an estimated $30 million in other funds, which would help make those small and large projects a reality. Every dollar spent from this bond will make a difference in Maine communities.

But it’s just the one step in an ongoing effort. A much larger investment — spread out over years — is needed to make sure all of Maine has high-speed internet.

ConnectMaine says it will take an investment of at least $600 million total to extend a high-speed fiber network to all unserved roads. In its action plan released in January, the group recommends a state investment of $40 million a year for the next five years.

That may sound like a lot. But Maine voters have approved a bond for highway improvements for more than twice that amount in each of the last five years, and will likely approve another $105 million for that purpose on July 14.

Increasingly, living without the internet is like living without a phone or electricity — or without a road leading to your front door. Maybe you can get by, but you’ll miss out on a lot, and you’ll be way behind everyone else.

That’s not the future we should want for rural Maine.

 

Comments are not available on this story.