Peggy Schaffer: Maine towns should control their internet future

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Community decision-making is the foundation of Maine’s DNA. Town meetings, volunteer school boards, and local planning efforts are all central to what makes this Maine. Dozens of communities have started this process with local people identifying locations and groups needing better service to develop plans addressing these gaps. But these community-led efforts are under threat from big monopoly internet service providers, who fear competition will lose customers. Companies like Charter Communications are working across Maine to sow distrust in these hard-working, community-based, and knowledgeable volunteers trying to address service gaps that private companies have failed to fill for decades. It is the same tactic they have used in other states like Michigan and Ohio to attempt to derail community-led solutions. They cite examples, using bad data, of community-owned internet networks that “failed” across. At the heart of this issue is funding. Maine has real funding to build out networks to serve areas of the state lacking a high-quality internet connection. And communities are best placed to make choices about what type of technology needs to be, who it should serve, and how access to that infrastructure should be owned. Given the scale of public funding supporting this infrastructure buildout and the long-term importance of the internet for education, workforce, telehealth, and economic development, community governance is essential to ensure the internet remains affordable and accessible for decades to come. Community-owned infrastructure doesn’t preclude broadband providers from operating in the same territory. It encourages competition and offers better service to more homes. 

[Peggy Schaffer retired in August as the director of the ConnectMaine Authority. She is on the  policy and communications committee for the Maine Broadband Coalition and serves on the board of the American Association for Public Broadband.]

Maine towns should control their internet future