The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $9.87 million investment in four infrastructure projects that will create or improve rural e-connectivity for 4,527 households and 215 businesses in rural Maine, part of the first round of USDA’s Reconnect Pilot Program.
The announcement was made at the Arrowsic fire station on Jan. 30.
The USDA’s D.J. Lavoy said the investment ”will help ensure that these rural, coastal, and island communities can connect to the vital internet services that they depend on. Upgrading and installing essential broadband infrastructure will improve connectivity for critical first responders and rural businesses. It also will enhance learning opportunities for students, provide access to telehealth services and build prosperity for Maine’s iconic towns,” he said.
USDA’s Maine director Timothy P. Hobbs added that the funding, “is the result of the efforts of Maine’s strong and resilient communities and people who stepped up to the plate. This critical funding will ensure that people living in these towns are connected to the opportunity, promise, and potential that having reliable internet provides.”
The funded projects are:
- Arrowsic, which will use a $604,254 ReConnect Program grant and a $604,254 in ReConnect Program loan to construct a fiber-optic broadband network with speeds up to 100 megabytes per second (Mbps) to connect 237 households, 20 pre-subscribed businesses, and four pre-subscribed farms.
- Monhegan Plantation will use a $626,298 ReConnect Program grant to connect the entire island community, which includes a school, power district, municipal office, museum, post office, library, and several inns and small businesses. The project’s service area includes 40 households, 11 pre-subscribed farms, and 15 pre-subscribed businesses.
- Roque Bluffs will use an $893,170 ReConnect Program grant to construct a fiber-optic network to connect 166 households, 22 pre-subscribed farms, and 16 pre-subscribed businesses. The network will connect to the Downeast Ring of Maine’s “three-ring binder” network backbone in Machias, 4.5 miles from the town line on Roque Bluffs Road.
- The Biddeford Internet Corporation will use a $3.5 million ReConnect Program grant and a $3.5 million ReConnect Program loan to expand its current gigabit fiber-to-the-premise network to connect 4,084 households, 30 pre-subscribed farms, 28 educational facilities, 23 pre-subscribed businesses, 15 health care centers, and 12 critical community facilities in Hebron, Sumner, Hartford, Buckfield, Canton, North Turner, Turner, South Paris, and West Paris.
These projects are supported by Gov. Janet Mills and the state’s congressional delegation.
“High-speed internet is no longer a luxury,” Mills said at the announcement. “It is an economic necessity. This significant federal investment builds on the work done by the state to help connect our small, rural communities to high-speed internet and open new doors of opportunity for their residents. As we work to strengthen and diversify our economy, building out our broadband capacity will play an important role and this funding represents another welcome step forward.”
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King also supported the funding in a joint statement:
“Communities in Maine are in need of reliable broadband infrastructure in order to compete in an increasingly digital economy. With this important funding, rural towns throughout the state will be able to deploy high-speed broadband and fiber networks that will serve their residents for decades to come, enhance digital inclusion, and enable the many economic and social opportunities that are only made possible by 21st century connectivity.”
First District Member of Congress Rep. Chellie Pingree noted in a statement that “Maine is the most rural state in the nation and ranks 49th in broadband access, which is a utility just as important as electricity or running water for rural Mainers and small businesses. Since I first took my seat on the House Appropriations Committee, I’ve pushed to expand rural broadband grant programs. Increased connectivity is a cornerstone of Maine’s future successes and I’m thrilled to see almost $10 million come to rural Maine communities that need the extra boost.”
Second District Member of Congress Rep. Jared Golden said “The people of Roque Bluffs are making impressive progress to bring reliable broadband to their town, and I’m proud to support their work. During the congressional hearing I brought to Washington County, I worked with Lisa Hanscom, the town’s first selectman, and their partner, Axiom Technologies, to determine how Congress can help locally-led broadband efforts like Roque Bluffs’ get across the finish line. I applaud today’s grant award, which will help make Roque Bluffs’ bold plan to connect nearly the entire community to high-speed internet a reality. I know how important it is to close the digital divide for towns like Roque Bluffs and I will continue to work with these rural communities to improve this critical infrastructure.”
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. USDA received 146 applications between May 31 and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loan, 100 percent grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks.
These grants, loans and combination funds enable the federal government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.