Governor Janet Mills testified before the Legislature’s Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology and asked the Committee to pass legislation to establish the Maine Connectivity Authority, a new entity that would be charged with achieving universal availability of high-speed broadband in Maine.
The Governor unveiled the bipartisan legislation the day prior, which would expand affordable broadband in Maine. The legislation, LD 1484 is 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.
The creation of the Authority comes as Maine is expected to receive as much as $129 million through the American Rescue Act Plan signed into law by President Biden last month that can be used for broadband expansion. The Authority would use Maine’s Federal allocation of funding for broadband.
Moreover, in a new approach distinct from but inclusive of the ConnectMaine Authority, it would be authorized to own physical broadband infrastructure, such as poles and wires, and hold equity in broadband projects. It would also be able to provide grants and loans and partner with the private sector and local communities to leverage investment and coordinate buildout of infrastructure. The Authority positions Maine to take a more proactive approach to closing the broadband access divide in rural and hard-to-reach communities that will focus on meeting Maine’s current and future needs.
The effort to create the Authority also comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for accessible, affordable broadband. Last year, more Maine people began working from home, while businesses, educational institutions, health care providers and others began offering remote services. However, the lack of affordable and accessible broadband, especially in rural areas, limited the ability of Maine people to engage and adequately access services.
The Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee (ERC), charged with outlining Maine’s economic recovery after the pandemic, urged the State to prioritize investment in affordable, high-speed broadband statewide to increase access to distance education, remote work, and telemedicine. Specifically, the ERC recommended convening public, private, and philanthropic stakeholders to map, prioritize, and complete program design for universal broadband in anticipation of new funding and advancing digital equity and inclusion by increasing access to broadband, computers, mobile devices, and expanded digital literacy training for historically underserved individuals and communities.
The Authority will pursue these goals. More specifically, under the legislation, the Authority is charged with ensuring:
- 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 legislation creates a Board of Directors to govern the Authority, which will be comprised of seven members appointed to three-year terms. Four members will be appointed by the Governor, one by the Senate President, and by the Speaker of House. The Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development will also hold a seat.
A copy of the Governor’s testimony as prepared for delivery is attached.