Maine can’t afford a fractured approach to expanding internet access

Bangor Daily News
Posted 2021-02-21

As with many other services and policy discussions, the COVID-19 pandemic has both emphasized and magnified the need to expand broadband access. That may sound trite, but it’s true.

Internet connectivity has come to be a requirement in so many aspects of life: in business, in education, in health care, in growing the economy. While some Maine communities are well-served or are making strides to improve internet access, other parts of our rural state are being left behind.

With this backdrop, the BDN has now kicked off a virtual broadband event series, sponsored by the Rockland-based Island Institute and Maine internet service provider GWI, bringing together a host of policy experts, business leaders and educators to discuss internet connectivity in the state.

That series began with a Feb. 18 event, also sponsored by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and AARP Maine, about the $15 million broadband bond passed by Maine voters in 2020 and what’s next for Maine. Editorial Page Editor Susan Young hosted that event, and started things off by asking Island Institute Senior Policy Officer Nick Battista to first explain what broadband is exactly, and to discuss why it is taking so long to build the system that Maine needs.

“What is broadband? Broadband is high-speed internet access that lets you do things like this [meeting],” said Battista, who also chairs the board of the ConnectMaine Authority, which is tasked with facilitating broadband availability throughout the state. “We know that over the last probably decade or so, internet has shifted from being a luxury and something that’s nice to have, to something much more essential. It’s essential for government functions, it’s essential for meeting people like this, it’s been essential in our daily lives through the current pandemic.”