The new year is full of resolutions, but one is high on the list for Maine: high-speed internet access, also known as broadband. In a state with such a rural footprint, making high-speed broadband access a universal reality for all Mainers is perhaps our most important policy priority in 2022.

Fewer than 50 percent of Mainers have true “high-speed internet” or “broadband,” with our state lagging behind the U.S. national average and the rest of New England. Proxima Studio/Shutterstock.com

Expanding access is the solution to a problem that has plagued Maine for decades. Here are the facts: Fewer than 50 percent of Mainers have true “high-speed internet” or “broadband,” with our state lagging behind the U.S. national average and the rest of New England. Rural Mainers are especially likely to have insufficient broadband, and low-income households are even further limited by a lack of affordability and reliability of service. Forty percent of Maine households earning less than $20,000 do not have broadband, compared to just 5 percent of households making $75,000 or more. This is not a trend that we can afford to perpetuate.

All in all, more than 85,000 households in Maine lack access to broadband, according to federal standards – and that number only increases the more our expectations catch up with the times. Federal standards – download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps were set over a decade ago, and high-speed internet is even higher-speed now.

That needs to change, especially in a world where online accessibility is more important than ever. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work, distance learning and telehealth are terms that have become ingrained in our way of life, and in ways never considered possible. They are now essential to participation in the modern economy. Ultimately, high-speed internet access has the potential to dramatically improve the quality for Mainers from Eliot to Fort Kent.

As the incoming president of the new Maine Connectivity Authority, I have embraced the challenge of connecting all Mainers to a more prosperous future. We can get there from here. Crafted through bipartisan legislation and signed into law by Gov. Mills last year, the authority is designed to proactively and strategically ensure that high-speed connectivity should be universally available. To that end, with the help of more than $250 million in federal funding, we are preparing to make significant investments across the state. We will fill in the gaps that have long existed, maximizing partnerships to ensure everyone can access and afford an internet connection. That effort will be sustained for an ongoing, positive impact.

Of course, it is a team effort. The authority’s board of directors represents a wide array of expertise, working with the Mills administration, numerous bureaus and departments and hundreds of stakeholders across the state. Broadband access won’t get fixed overnight. It requires cooperation between the public and private sectors, both of which have important roles to play.

The Maine Connectivity Authority’s work will be organized into three focus areas. The first is “projects,” optimizing broadband deployment. The second is “places,” reaching the last mile in Maine. And the third is “people,” advancing digital equity for all. For too long, Mainers have been forced to face an inequitable world, in which broadband access is determined by place of residence. Far too many places – urban and rural – have been left behind.

No longer. We cannot afford to leave people behind. Looking ahead, technology is not the end, but the means to more connectivity and prosperity.

The challenge before us is significant, the opportunity unprecedented and the need at an all-time high. Let’s turn an old Maine adage – “you can’t get there from here” – on its head with a new one: “We can get there from here.”


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