In July of 2020, Maine voters overwhelming passed a $15 million broadband bond. This fall, we will see $150 million in federal funds, and at least another $100 million, awarded for projects improving internet infrastructure.
What follows is a recap of the status and how you can help Maine secure our fair share of federal funds.
All funds will flow through the Maine Connectivity Authority, the state’s quasi-governmental broadband agency created to rapidly move millions of dollars in support of public private partnerships.
Speed tests allow the state to challenge a new map being created by the Federal Communications Commission…
This fall, the Authority will undertake a statewide planning process to guide how the state spends at least $100 million as well as funding for digital equity and inclusion work. Beyond planning, the Authority is slated to invest:
• $70 million in areas with imited connectivity and ready public/private partnerships; some match will be required to access funds and projects will be expected to connect everybody in the area.
• $30 million to support technical assistance and build regional capacity to undertake these complicated partnerships.
• $30 million to enable partnerships that expand infrastructure that ultimately enables last mile projects; such infrastructure influences the cost to build a project and the cost for an internet service provider to operate the network.
• $20 million to complete line extensions for owners of existing infrastructure that want to expand and provide a connection to a small pocket people so they aren’t left behind.
While Maine is poised to significantly improve connectivity across the state, these funds will not be enough. You can help Maine receive our fair share of federal funds by visiting MaineBroadbandCoalition.org and taking the speed test there. Even if you have good internet service, taking the test will help identify areas with good service, which makes it easier to identify areas without.
Speed tests also allow the state to challenge a new map being created by the Federal Communications Commission that drives the allocation of funds. Each state gets a minimum of $100 million and additional funds are allocated based on each state’s proportion of unserved locations, as documented on the maps. The more unserved locations, the greater Maine’s share of the available funds—which could total $32 billion.
To build the maps, the FCC is asking internet service providers to provide detailed data about where their existing service is and what maximum advertised speeds are available there. Across the country, these maps are likely going to underestimate the number of homes with inadequate internet service. States will have a chance to share data with the FCC that better reflects reality and effectively argues for a greater share of the available funds.
Maine’s strong focus on community engagement and planning gives us a significant advantage over other states. This spring, Maine successfully used information from this process to overcome challenges by two cable companies arguing that about a third of the census blocks covered in a $28 million grant shouldn’t be eligible because they were already providing service to those areas. Of the more than 300 census blocks challenged, Maine was able to use detailed data to show that many homes did not actually have service and the state was awarded all of the funds. States without robust local engagement were much less successful in addressing similar challenges.
One of the key data sets that Maine uses comes from the statewide speed test project run by the Maine Broadband Coalition. So far, Mainers have taken 37,000 speeds tests in over 28,000 unique locations, providing valuable insight into broadband challenges.
The better Maine is able to identify unserved locations, the better equipped it will be challenge the FCC maps. With $32 billion to split up, let’s make sure Maine is not undercounted and that we receive our fair share of these funds.
Nick Battista is chief policy officer with the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront.