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Mills announces nearly $6M to build internet infrastructure in rural Maine communities

Gov. Mills announced $5.6 million to fund the construction of permanent internet infrastructure that will bring high-speed broadband to students across rural Maine.

AUGUSTA, Maine — As Maine families continue to navigate distance learning amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Janet Mills on Friday announced $5.6 million in coronavirus relief money to fund the construction of permanent internet infrastructure that will bring high-speed broadband to more than 730 students across rural Maine.

The funding, which comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), is a result of a new Mills administration initiative called “ConnectKidsNow!” that brought together State government, school superintendents, and several of Maine’s Internet Service Providers in a public-private partnership to improve internet access and to build it out to new rural locations. 

“Internet access is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity, and no child in Maine should be left out of the classroom because they can’t get online,” Mills said. “This public-private partnership will make a significant difference by bringing broadband to more kids in more rural communities so they can stay connected to their teachers and to one another. Still, there is more work to do. As long as any Maine child struggles to learn because of a lack of internet access, I will continue to push for expanded broadband across the state of Maine.”

As NEWS CENTER Maine’s Lindsey Mills reports, the pandemic has magnified Maine’s digital divide. Tens of thousands of Maine households have limited or no access to high-speed internet. And that’s an underestimate, according to ConnectME Authority, which has been working for years to eliminate broadband barriers while supporting public-private partnerships to increase access to high-speed internet.

RELATED: ‘There will be a lasting impact’: How the pandemic magnified Maine’s digital divide

“Students’ ability to connect to distance learning is a key factor in school success,” Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said. “This is a significant step forward in students’ access to reliable internet access which is key to their future success.”

The administration recognizes that the ability of a child to learn remotely depends almost entirely on access to high-speed internet – “a challenge for a state like Maine that lacks adequate internet, if it has internet at all, in some rural locations,” the administration said in the release. Recognizing this challenge, the Mills Administration – through the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Department of Education, and ConnectMaine – worked to identify where kids were not sufficiently connected, or at all connected, to the internet due to lack of infrastructure. 

The administration and Maine superintendents partnered with Internet Service Providers who, in turn, evaluated where they would be able to build the necessary infrastructure to connect students to high-speed internet before the end of this year, the deadline for using the CARES Act Funds established by the U.S. Treasury Department.

As a result, the Mills administration awarded a total of $5.6 million in CRF monies to the following seven Internet Services Providers to bring high-quality broadband to Maine students and rural communities:

  • Axiom was awarded $1.5 million to bring fiber connections to students on four roads in Whiting and East Machias.  
  • Charter was awarded $68,898 to extend service to students on roads in Canaan.
  • Comcast was awarded $77,000 to extend service to students living on unserved roads in Bath, Berwick, Kittery and Woolwich.
  • First Light was awarded $63,000 to extend service to students in Buckfield, Sumner, and Bethel.
  • LCI was awarded $2,165,000 to extend fiber service to Hope, Lincolnville and Appleton and a section of Bristol. 
  • Pioneer was awarded $52,000 and is expanding their fiber service in Houlton and Oxbow.  
  • Redzone Wireless was awarded $1,739,700 to upgrade existing service and install new service to reach locations in 55 Maine towns.

“This has been a phenomenal public and private partnership, and I am proud of the hard and collaborative work done by our administration and service providers to ensure more than 700 Maine students have the same virtual learning opportunities as their classmates,” Pender Makin, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, said. “We are grateful for Governor Mills’ leadership, commitment and vision for a state where broadband access is prioritized and recognized as a vital and much needed resource.”