Wait a minute—there are two broadband authorities in Maine?
Yes! And here’s how they’re working together to achieve high-speed internet access for all Mainers.
In 2021, Governor Mills and the state legislature created the Maine Connectivity Authority to expand upon and accelerate the broadband deployment successes of the State’s already established ConnectMaine Authority.
The need for the new entity resulted from the State of Maine receiving Fiscal Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, and the knowledge that large amounts of additional federal funding for broadband would be coming to states in the coming months and years. These funds have different uses and restrictions and require the submission of various plans that the Maine Connectivity Authority is currently focused on building.
How MCA and ConnectMaine are working together
Today, while the Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA) works to establish a strong foundation, the ConnectMaine Authority continues to deploy infrastructure funding strengthened by the recent share of $10 million in funds from the Maine Connectivity Authority. Combined with the remaining 2020 bond funds, the current window for grant funding amounts to $16 million, which is a welcome (and unprecedented) opportunity for internet service providers and communities alike.
While more work remains, Andrew Butcher, the newly confirmed president of Maine Connectivity Authority, and the board of directors have already gotten started on a strategic plan and developing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in partnership with the ConnectMaine Authority. Both documents have been long awaited by both the public and private sectors involved in Maine’s broadband community to give insight and clarity into how these two state entities will work together and what the road ahead could be for substantial federal funding for infrastructure and digital equity.
As laid out in their shared principles and confirmed through the Memorandum of Understanding, both entities will work together to:
- Sustain the community of broadband advocates that support local broadband investment and engagement.
- Protect and sustain the revenue streams of ConnectMaine, which support ongoing work of expanding broadband availability.
- Avoid disrupting the marketplace and ongoing grants programs, and ensure clear, joint communications to the industry, state partners, existing staff and Maine communities about future plans.
- Ensure consistency in process and messages, and minimize the potential for confusion, ambiguity and additional overhead related to the existence of two state broadband entities.
- Be ambitious, bold, and innovative, and build from our shared work and knowledge, and avoid encumbering the Maine Connectivity Authority with statutory limitations or rulemaking obligations on the ConnectMaine Authority.
These shared principles are outlined on pages 80-81 of this ConnectMaine November meeting agenda, and the formal MOU between the two entities can be found on pages 19-21 of this document.
What does this mean for Maine communities?
So, what does all of this mean for community members and partners trying to navigate the state broadband landscape?
At least through June 2022, the work of the ConnectMaine Authority will continue as we’ve come to know.
- ConnectMaine offers grants and resources to support community preparedness, and is actively continuing to build out mapping platforms that will support the prioritization of infrastructure funding and deployment statewide.
- ConnectMaine will be administering the NTIA grant, a $28 million federal award recently won by the State, in collaboration with MCA, after a competitive application process led by ConnectMaine last year.
Looking beyond June, the Maine Connectivity Authority will be leading the efforts to close the digital divide in Maine with ConnectMaine playing a supporting role.
- As the MCA gains speed, with hundreds of millions in federal funds and requirements to produce plans for spending that money, that body will be the place to look for funding for broadband.
- We expect the MCA to deploy additional tools and support for broadband beyond grants to connect last mile infrastructure projects.
Opportunities to learn more
Moving forward, both authorities will seek opportunities to grow shared programming and resources to support Mainers as broadband expansion and equitable access increases in priority statewide. Ongoing communication between each group will help to ensure the clarity and understanding of roles.
The public can follow these conversations and decisions by attending monthly board meetings (hosted on Zoom at this time). Find links and agendas by visiting either website or subscribing to their email communication by reaching out to Connect.ME@maine.gov and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectfully. Previous meeting recordings and agendas can be found online as well.
In addition, the Island Institute’s Broadband team welcomes anyone interested in learning more to connect with our team, broadband community members, and leadership of these organizations on our weekly Let’s Talk Broadband calls. Hosted on Fridays at 11:00 a.m., these calls are an opportunity to ask questions and learn from a growing community of broadband practitioners and leaders. The group is often joined by staff from State and Federal offices as well.
Please reach out with any questions or join us on our Friday calls. We look forward to continuing the conversation on broadband in our state and supporting Maine’s coastal communities and our two authorities in providing reliable and equitable access to high-speed internet for all residents.