Legislators approved the creation of a new public authority to coordinate investing tens of millions of dollars in federal funding for broadband infrastructure in Maine.

Both houses of the Legislature passed L.D. 1484, establishing the Maine Connectivity Authority with a mandate to expand universal high-speed internet access and telecommunications infrastructure across the state.

Gov. Janet Mills supported the measure and this spring called the proposal one of the most important issues facing the Legislature this year.

At least 83,000 Maine homes do not have adequate access to high-speed internet, almost 15 percent of the households in the state. The ConnectMaine Authority, a small agency tasked with improving broadband access, has provided $750,000 to $1 million a year in grants for a total of 27 projects since it was established 15 years ago.

Bill sponsor Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, has said the amount of new federal money for broadband coming to Maine means the state needs a bigger, more robust body to coordinate and invest in broadband projects.

Authority officials will be responsible for directing a $15 million state broadband bond and up to $129 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for internet infrastructure. The amount available to support broadband expansion is unprecedented, but less than one-third of the state’s estimated need of $600 million.

The new authority would have the ability to borrow money, negotiate contracts with private internet providers, own infrastructure and provide grants to companies and communities.

High-speed internet service has been regarded as critical to the state’s economic success, especially in underserved rural areas. The coronavirus pandemic, which drove workplaces, commerce, education and healthcare online, highlighted deficiencies in some Maine communities.

The authority would have a seven-member board of directors appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. It is directed to deliver a report to the Legislature in 2030 describing whether it has fulfilled its intended purpose, needs more time or should be disbanded.

Megan Diver

Megan has worked in Maine politics for more than ten years and all of her professional career, having served in many roles for elected officials (including former Secretary of State Charlie Summers), in-house with the Maine Association of REALTORS®, legislative specialist at Pierce Atwood LLP providing lobbying services and support to Pierce Atwood’s government relations clients and most recently senior government relations specialist at the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Megan currently is the Vice President at the Maine Energy Marketers Association, utilizing her vast knowledge and legislative experience at the State House to represent MEMA on policies relating to the Association and its members.