Island Institute’s Rural Community Engagement Amplifies Maine’s Broadband Efforts

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Digital Beat

Island Institute’s Rural Community Engagement Amplifies Maine’s Broadband Efforts

Adrianne B. Furniss

The Island Institute works to sustain Maine’s island and coastal communities, helping them tackle pressing environmental and socioeconomic issues and lead as examples of sustainability. With a focus on developing resilient economies, this philanthropic institution works with community leaders to increase broadband expansion in rural areas. As the most rural state in the nation—with mountains, coasts, and islands—Maine faces a mighty economic challenge to connect every resident to reliable high-speed internet service.

The Island Institute’s broadband team engages with community leaders through working groups, financial and economic trainings, and conferences, and via the facilitation of discussions between community members, local officials, and internet service providers. Through the Tom Glenn Community Impact Fund, the Island Institute provides broadband planning grants to municipalities, local institutions, and nonprofits in Maine.

After years of working with Maine’s rural communities, the Island Institute developed the Community-Driven Broadband Process to help guide community leaders through the steps for bringing broadband to their towns and residents. This process has guided more than 100 Maine communities as they began conversations around digital equity, and it has served as a model for 20 of those communities seeking fiber-to-the-home networks or infrastructure expansions through public-private partnerships.

The Island Institute also works with two recently merged state broadband authorities: the ConnectMaine Authority (ConnectME), established in 2006, and the Maine Connectivity Authority, established in 2021. They have recently joined forces to provide a streamlined approach for communities and ISPs seeking to expand broadband service. The Maine Connectivity Authority, through a contract with ConnectME, offers grants and resources to support community preparedness. It is actively continuing to build out mapping platforms that will support the prioritization of infrastructure funding and deployment statewide. The Maine Connectivity Authority also seeks to achieve universal high-speed broadband in Maine, but it has the ability to own physical infrastructure and steward partnerships.

Maine’s broadband work is enhanced by a group of diverse community organizations across the state who formed the Maine Broadband Coalition (MBC) in 2015. Island Institute has played a leadership role in MBC from the start.

By collaborating with the Island Institute and the Maine Broadband Coalition, the state broadband authorities are able to share knowledge, engage with rural communities, and guide communities through grant applications. Kendra Jo Grindle, former senior community development officer at the Island Institute and now with the Maine Connectivity Authority, said, “Engaging the whole community in the process, learning from others, and working with [state] and nonprofit partners can help towns leverage the availability of public funding and their unique strengths to bring universal high-speed internet access” to Maine communities.

Many thanks to Peggy Schaffer, former Director of the ConnectME Authority, for her help on this article.

Adrianne B. Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

More in this series

These articles and much more in Pathways to Digital Equity: How Communities Can Reach Their Broadband Goals—and How Philanthropy Can Help

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Adrianne B. Furniss.