The recent news that Maine will receive $272 million in federal funds to expand broadband is something to celebrate.

In a state where 77% of the homes are underserved or unserved, the impact that the ubiquitous availability of affordable, reliable broadband could have for education, health care, job creation and economic growth is nothing short of profound. Because lack of broadband access disproportionately affects the most vulnerable members of our community – including the poor, people of color and residents of rural areas, as well as homebound residents like veterans, seniors and individuals with disabilities – we know that the broadband service that springs to life as a result of this funding will literally provide a lifeline to the people who need one the most.

This landmark legislation, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, marks the culmination of a herculean effort that has been five years in the making, and involved the collaboration of dozens of experts, community advocates, lawmakers and my colleagues throughout the industry.

What most excites me about this legislation is not just the availability of the funds, but also the fact that it establishes a new paradigm for bringing broadband service to life: public-private partnerships between service providers and federal, state and local governments. A federally designed, locally run competitive bid process, which is open to broadband providers and is technology neutral, can cost-effectively bridge the broadband gap and fully leverage existing infrastructure, while establishing enforceable minimum bandwidth requirements, controlling consumer costs and avoiding unnecessary overbuilding. It can ensure that the process is driven by community leaders who best understand the needs of their residents, businesses and community institutions. These kinds of partnerships have the power to accomplish what neither the public nor the private sector could do alone.

Over the past five years, I have been working with lawmakers to refine this proposal.

In the decade since I founded the New England Telehealth Consortium, or NETC, which has now supported more than 1,200 rural hospitals, clinics and physicians throughout the region, I have seen just how critical residential broadband access can be. While telehealth systems for hospitals and clinics allow them to share lifesaving information, save millions of dollars and deliver care to people who wouldn’t otherwise access it, the true power of telehealth can’t be unlocked without widespread broadband access at a household level. The ability for doctors to see patients and prescribe medication over video calls has the potential to reduce costs and improve health care access like never before. But without the availability of fast, reliable broadband access for all homes, that potential will remain unrealized.

And over the past four years at Mission Broadband, helping 500 communities throughout New England to expand and improve broadband access, I have seen how powerful the connection can be. Working with community leaders from the northernmost tip of Aroostook County to the far reaches of Block Island, Rhode Island, 12 miles out to sea, bringing modern internet speeds to residents and business is the defining characteristic that will determine whether year-round life can continue as it has for generations in any community.

I applaud the collaboration that went into bringing this legislation to life, and ultimately bringing Maine the money it needs to get broadband to all. I was honored to be part of this effort.

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