Productive legislative session is a good start

Positive steps part of multi-year effort to make Maine’s economy competitive

(Augusta, Maine) Although Maine was rocked by national publicity last year exposing the state’s scarce access to highly reliable and very high-speed Internet, an alliance of businesses and organizations says the state has made fairly good progress correcting course in the current legislative session.

The Maine Broadband Coalition (MBC) is supporting LD 465, LD 1063 and LD 1185, all three of which are still alive in Augusta. LD 465 would help ensure that Maine’s internet backbone, the 3 Ring Binder, is fully utilized. It removes a state surcharge that falls disproportionately on rural areas. The Maine House of Representatives passed the bill this morning and sent it on to the Senate. LD 1185 would provide $6 million in funding to local broadband planning and community broadband investment through the ConnectME Authority.

MBC members say LD 1063 is particularly important. The was bill passed unanimously by the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, and is a key stepping stone in a long process of building state-of-the-art communications infrastructure. The bill now waits approval by the full legislature and Governor Paul LePage.

“This is the first overhaul of the state legislation supporting broadband since 2006,” said Carla Dickstein, a founding member of MBC. “It puts into place mechanisms that promote strategic planning, measurable goals and objectives, with public input and annual reporting required. And for the first time, it allows the state to support local broadband planning efforts. If we’re going to bring world-class Internet to Maine, we have to be very wise about how we proceed, and this bill gets us started in the right direction.”

Dickstein said passing L.D. 1063, “An Act To Promote Community Broadband Planning and Strengthen Economic Opportunity throughout Maine,” would go a long way toward correcting Maine’s path.

“Since we’re a rural state, private companies send us to the back of the line for cutting edge Internet infrastructure. If the full legislature sends the bill to the governor and he signs it into law, that’ll be a strong indication that state leaders recognize Maine’s economic future depends on stimulating build-out of critically needed infrastructure,” Dickstein said.

Maine municipalities are growing frustrated with large incumbent telecommunications providers who do not want to invest in rural areas, but who also try to tell legislators that Maine “doesn’t need” high-speed Internet. Impatient with that combination, municipalities are taking matters into their own hands. In March, the City of Sanford released a request for proposals to establish a public-private partnership to expand Sanford’s broadband infrastructure by building a city-owned fiber optic network.

On Saturday, voters in the town of Islesboro overwhelmingly approved beginning the process of making “FTTH,” or “Fiber To The Home, available to every island resident. In the last year, both Rockport and South Portland announced that they would install Internet networks capable of speeds up to 1 gigabit-per-second, both upload and download. Bangor, Sanford and Portland have also expressed interest in the “municipal broadband” concept.

“A selectman in Islesboro told the Portland Press Herald on Saturday that his town is ‘a community intent on keeping up with the world, and maybe getting ahead of the world,’” Dickstein said. “I think what we’re seeing across Maine, and in Augusta, is that communities are recognizing how high the stakes actually are for Maine’s economy. Cutting-edge Internet is no luxury, it’s a crucial necessity.”

Maine Broadband Coalition (MBC) is an informal federation of public policy professionals, educational institutions, businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals who are concerned about Maine’s economic future. For more information visit www.MaineBroadbandCoalition.org.

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