Portland Press Herald
Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the creation of a new public authority to coordinate investing tens of millions of dollars in federal funding for broadband infrastructure in Maine. Both houses of the Legislature passed L.D. 1484, establishing the Maine Connectivity Authority with a mandate to expand universal high-speed internet access and telecommunications infrastructure across the state.
The Maine Broadband Coalition launched the speed testing initiative Nov 23. In addition to finding out their own upload and download speeds, users will help the coalition identify slow spots around the state where the speeds are not up to snuff.
Mainers are sharing their stories of poor internet access as part of an effort to get the Federal Communications Commission to update its map to more accurately reflect the inadequacy of internet service in many areas of the country, particularly rural areas.
Nearly half of Mainers who responded to a recent survey said their internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic has been less than adequate. Results of the statewide survey by Mission Broadband, a Bangor-based firm, reveal disparities in broadband access and affordability in different areas, a divide that has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Roughly 47 percent of the more than 2,600 respondents indicated that their internet service has not met their needs since the start of the pandemic.
Starting in January 2020, the ConnectME Authority will impose a 10-cent monthly surcharge on every wired phone line in Maine to help fund broadband expansion projects in the state. The surcharge, approved by the Legislature as part of Maine’s most recent biennial budget, will be used to facilitate broadband expansion projects in the state in 2020 and beyond.
Gov Janet Mills (D-ME) signed the nation’s toughest internet privacy protection bill into law. The new law requires customers to proactively allow internet service providers to use their personal data. It prevents the use, sale or distribution of a customer’s personal information by providers without the express consent of the customer. Other states have internet privacy laws, but they require customers to opt-out of having their personal data used by internet service providers.
Many rural communities in Maine have been waiting decades for the major internet service providers to bring broadband service to their areas, a situation exacerbated by the state having the second slowest internet speeds in the country. The lack of broadband is a deterrent to would-be residents and businesses, and it thwarts local efforts at economic development. It also deprives existing residents of opportunities for entertainment, education, employment, and digital health services.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) have joined a bipartisan group urging the Department of Agriculture to direct funding for broadband internet expansion to high-need rural areas. They urged the USDA to set aside part of a $600 million rural broadband fund for “geographically challenged” areas. They cited a Federal Communications Commission statistic that of the 24 million US households that do not have reliable, affordable, high-speed internet service, 80 percent are in rural areas. In addition to Sens. Collins and King, the letter was signed by Sens.