McCabe introduces bill to expand rural broadband

Editor’s Note: Maine Broadband Coalition is publishing this press release as a courtesy to Maine state representative Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan.

April 16, 2015

McCabe introduces bill to expand rural broadband

Greater Internet access would benefit Maine’s small businesses

AUGUSTA – House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, introduced a measure Tuesday to allow Maine communities to form local public authorities to provide broadband to rural parts of Maine.

Maine Broadband Coalition

Maine state representative Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan

“Many Internet providers are not willing to extend service to rural parts of Maine,” said McCabe. “By allowing Maine communities to form their own local authorities, they can provide their residents with access to high-speed broadband.”

Maine currently has a 1,100-mile statewide fiber optic network called the Three Ring Binder, which residents and businesses can access if carriers and service providers build “off-ramps” to this high-speed broadband network.

McCabe’s bill allows a municipality, groups of municipalities and counties to create corporate entities or authorities, similar to water and sewer districts, with the ability to issue bonds for the purpose of constructing broadband infrastructure to provide regional broadband service.  Such an authority would provide the “last mile” of broadband to rural homes and business using the fees from that service to pay for the needed infrastructure.

The bill also states that the expansion of broadband using optical fiber is an authorized expense under the state universal service fund administered by the Public Utilities Commission, which would provide further funds to such authorities to extend broadband service to Maine residents.

The bill amends Maine’s goals for broadband policy by requiring the ConnectME Authority to define “broadband” as having at least the same speed as the current Federal Communications Commission standard. It would also create a standard providing that upload and download speeds are the same. This addition will help to ensure that Maine broadband speeds are competitive with the rest of the country.

“There are many small businesses and farmers in rural Maine that would greatly benefit from access to broadband,” McCabe said. “Too many businesses struggle to compete because they do not have Internet that is fast enough to run their business online. We need to level the playing field and extend broadband to all parts of Maine.”

According to Google Director of Marketing Scott Levitan, 97 percent of American consumers search online for goods and services.  At the same time, 59 percent of small businesses in Maine do not have a website.

According to the Website BroadbandNow, which publishes federal data on broadband access, nearly 200,000 Maine residents don’t have access to high-speed Internet access or even access of any kind.

The bill, LD 1323, will receive a public hearing before the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee in the coming weeks.

McCabe is serving his fourth term in the Maine House and represents Skowhegan and part of Madison.