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John Dougherty is Vice President and General Manager of Mission Broadband. Dwayne Young is Co-Chair of the Greater East Grand Broadband Task Force.
During the pandemic, the urgent need to provide broadband access to all Mainers is undeniable. The high-speed internet is no longer a luxury — it is an important utility for economic development, education and healthcare.
Both federal and state legislatures are aware of this, and as a result, millions of dollars will be poured into Maine to address this issue in the coming months. This funding is important, but spending money on the problem isn’t enough to fill the digital divide in Maine. We need to do more to prepare the community, but many are not ready for this plunge.
Last year, the issue of broadband expansion gained widespread bipartisan support in our state. Maine voters overwhelmingly in July 2020 passed The first $ 15 million bond to fund a high-speed internet infrastructure project.Maine lawmakers Approved Law to create a new quasi-government agency to promote broadband 83,000 households Currently, there is not enough broadband. Governor Janet Mills is expected to sign the bill.
At the federal level, the recently passed American Rescue Planning Act It contains Over $ 10 billion for broadband, some of this funding in Maine is expected to exceed $ 100 million. Additional federal funding is also imminent in future infrastructure packages.
Much attention has been paid to these huge amounts of funding, and of course. These are the most important public investments in broadband to date and have the potential to revolutionize Maine. But funding is just one step towards closing the state’s broadband gap. Local governments and members of the support community still need to generate public support for the project among their members, which can be an unexpected challenge.
Many people want and understand the need for broadband expansion, but even if the pandemic reveals its importance, there is still a surprising amount that remains skeptical.To Mission broadband While working to provide fair access to communities throughout Maine, we have encountered questions from many residents who are hesitant about broadband. Some, like tax increases, are concerned about how costs affect them personally. Some people, such as some older people in rural areas, are unaware of the need for an internet connection because they have never used it and do not understand how to use it. And in some cases, people actually appreciate the lack of connectivity and loneliness associated with living off-the-grid in remote states.
This skepticism may be sufficient to prevent broadband expansion projects from happening. To access the grant, the local government may need to match at least a portion of its public funds, either through the issuance of debt or the reallocation of revenue. The percentage of matches may be small, but depending on the town and its legislation, it may be necessary to fund local ballots for voting. This requires the support of the majority of the community. This means that even if some residents and elected officials are enthusiastic about broadband, it is not certain that they will fund the new fiber infrastructure. Even after the question has been voted, the initiative can be rejected and some towns are stuck on the other side of the broadband gap.
To prevent this scenario, you need to spend more time collectively educating the community about the benefits of broadband and assessing and targeting community-specific broadband requirements. Education and public support are the basis of this effort. Local governments, broadband committees, and others passionate about broadband talk with members and neighbors, listen in honor of their concerns, support them throughout the process, and broadband expansion projects. Can tell how much a can have a positive impact.
Maine is approaching the moment of the broadband watershed. With millions of dollars in potential funding soon available, we have the opportunity to begin breaking the digital divide and speed up the entire community in the 21st century. Even if you are skeptical, local governments and residents must do a better job to prepare for it. The future of broadband expansion in our state begins with an informed community.
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