The U.S. Treasury Department is allocating more than $128 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for Maine’s effort to expand broadband internet service, U.S. Sen. Angus King’s office said Friday.

The funds are drawn from the law’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. In addition to the $128.2 million in broadband funding for the state, each of Maine’s five Native American tribes will receive $167,000 in funding, King’s office said in a news release.

“The American Rescue Plan is bringing more than $128 million in broadband funding to Maine, which will create new opportunities for people throughout our state – especially in rural areas,” King said in the release. “It is clear as day that a high-speed, affordable broadband connection is fundamental to participating in the 21st century economy. Too many Maine families have been forced to go without this vital tool – watching economic opportunities disappear, struggling to access their education, and missing out on convenient ways to access critical healthcare.”

King’s office said Maine is projected to receive even more from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act upon House passage, bringing the state’s total allocation to “hundreds of millions of dollars to increase affordable, high-speed broadband access statewide and narrow Maine’s digital divide.”

The funds will offer a huge boost to the Maine Connectivity Authority, a new state agency that has been tasked with managing and allocating the funds to various local and regional broadband expansion projects. The agency can negotiate contracts, borrow money, construct and own infrastructure, and collect internet service data, among other rights and responsibilities. The eventual structure, staffing levels and approach of the authority will be established in the coming months as it develops.

Many economists now regard broadband service as an essential tool for economic development, particularly in rural areas. In Maine, increasing rural access to broadband has been a bipartisan policy goal for years, but the ConnectMaine Authority, a small agency established in 2006, never had enough money to make the sweeping investments needed to fully connect poor and rural communities.

ConnectMaine Director Peggy Schaffer indicated that the incoming funds are a total game-changer for a state that has been subsisting on a budget of roughly $1 million a year to subsidize broadband projects.

“Thanks to the hard work of Sen. King, Maine will be in a position to make significant gains in ending the digital divide,” Schaffer said in the release. “Communities and internet service providers all across Maine have been diligently planning to address their broadband needs. We can now take action to implement those plans.”

Schaffer said the funds will allow the backers of Maine’s broadband expansion effort to shift their thinking “from one of scarcity to one where almost everyone in Maine will be able to get a high-quality broadband connection over the next three to four years.”

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