AUGUSTA — Governor Janet Mills recently signed landmark legislation to establish the Maine Connectivity Authority, a new entity charged with achieving universal availability of high-speed broadband in Maine.
“In today’s world, access to affordable, high-speed internet is as fundamental as electricity, heat, and water. If we want a strong economy and thriving state, we’ve simply got to have it,” said Governor Janet Mills. “By signing this bill into law, I’m sending the message that Maine is serious about broadband expansion, and with the Authority and robust funding from the American Rescue Plan, we will be in the driver’s seat when it comes to expanding affordable, high-speed broadband across the state, especially in rural areas. I look forward to standing up the Maine Connectivity Authority in the coming months and getting its important work underway.”
Using federal funds allocated to the State of Maine under the American Rescue Plan, the Authority will work to ensure three goals: that effective, accessible connectivity be universally available in the state; that there be secure, affordable, reliable, competitive and sustainable forward-looking infrastructure that can meet future needs; and that all residents, businesses and institutions in Maine be able to take full advantage of the economic, health, educational, and other opportunities available through connectivity services.
The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Senator Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) and co-sponsored by Representative Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) and the other Co-Chairs of the Legislature’s Broadband Caucus, passed the Legislature unanimously. The Governor will nominate the Board and appoint a President to be confirmed by the Legislature. The Board will work with an advisory team to create the operating processes to execute universal, affordable high speed broadband access.
“This new law will allow Maine to utilize the creative and flexible tools needed to achieve the goal of universal, affordable high-speed access,” said Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. “The bipartisan support is a positive start for this important work.”
“The Maine Connectivity Authority is a game changer for our state,” said Dana Connors, President and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “The connectivity that broadband provides is essential for Maine’s economy and the lives and livelihoods of Maine people. Never has this been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Broadband expansion has long been a priority for Maine’s business community, and we appreciate the work of Governor Mills, the Legislature, and our Congressional Delegation to ensure high-speed internet access is available in every corner of Maine.”
The creation of the Authority is the next step forward in Governor Mills’ commitment to expanding access to affordable broadband in Maine, one of her top priorities. Last year, the Governor secured the approval of a $15 million bond proposal for broadband, the first new investment in internet expansion in more than a decade, and her Administration is also spearheading a broadband mapping initiative to facilitate the expansion of broadband into areas with inadequate service.
Last year, the Governor also dedicated $5.6 million in CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds in partnership with private internet providers to build out permanent internet infrastructure to more than 730 students across rural Maine. The initiative built on the Mills Administration’s previous work to secure mobile hotspots and learning devices for nearly 24,000 students across Maine after schools suspended in-classroom instruction and adopted remote learning earlier this year.