Broadband talk is finally connecting with more significant investment

Bangor Daily News
Posted 2021-04-25

Broadband is having a moment, both here in Maine and at the federal level.

State and local officials have been talking about broadband expansion for a long time. The discussion and the demonstrated need surrounding high-speed internet access — a need that is particularly great in Maine’s more rural areas — have far outmatched the public investment.

It’s possible that the tide could now be turning.

The ConnectMaine Authority, the state entity tasked with supporting broadband development across Maine, has projected that it could cost $600 million to expand broadband to 95 percent of the state. That number has seemed daunting, almost to the point of being unreachable. For context, Mainers passed a first-of-its-kind bond question to invest in broadband last July — to the tune of $15 million. That certainly wasn’t the first or only state investment in broadband, but it speaks to the gulf Maine has seen between the existing internet connectivity needs and the available funding.

Last year’s bond was a meaningful incremental step, but still a drop in the bucket. Encouragingly though, that bucket is starting to fill up faster than expected with help from the federal government.

The American Rescue Plan Act passed in March included $10 billion for broadband, and Maine is expected to receive roughly $120 million of that funding. Democrats and Republicans in Congress still have some work to do in bridging the gap between their respective infrastructure proposals, but at least both sides can agree that broadband is infrastructure. There could be billions more in store nationally for broadband in a final infrastructure package.