AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Connectivity Authority announced in a release Thursday that it is going “all in” on an effort to bring broadband internet to all Mainers.
This week, the U.S. Department of the Treasury approved the MCA’s broadband expansion plan application and agreed to provide $110 million from the American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA) Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CPF) to support MCA’s programs.
Combined with an anticipated $18.2 million from a second round of CPF funding and $21 million allocated from the Maine Jobs and Recovery Program, the funding represents a tenfold increase over any past investment in Maine’s broadband infrastructure.
The MCA said the use of the funds would begin in October 2022 and would be guided by "extensive public engagement" throughout the summer. The funding will focus on serving some of Maine’s most rural counties and remote locations, according to a release from Gov. Janet Mills' office.
“Maine’s responsible use of these Federal funds – developed by the Maine Connectivity Authority – will help us reach that goal and make a real and positive difference in the lives of Maine people, especially those who live in our rural communities," Mills said in the release.
The Maine Connectivity Authority was created by the state legislature in 2021 and was designed with the intent to address the state’s connectivity needs while managing funds for broadband infrastructure development.
“This historic $110 million broadband investment from the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund will make a significant difference for people throughout our state – expanding economic prosperity, opening educational pathways, and creating convenient ways to get critical services like health care," Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said in a release.
King, co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, has been a steadfast advocate for expanding affordable broadband access to increase economic opportunity in rural Maine, raising the issue numerous times during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MCA spokesperson Brian Allenby told NEWS CENTER Maine efforts are underway to support supply chain and workforce development efforts.
"We know that those can be limiting factors in this type of work and want to ensure that there are no delays on projects once the funds have been distributed," Allenby said.
In Mills' State of the State address in February, she made it clear she wants statewide broadband coverage as soon as possible.
"I pledge to you that everyone in Maine who wants high-speed Internet will be able to get it by 2024, just two short years from now," Mills said in her address.
"Our challenges in meeting this goal are significant, whether its workforce, whether its supply chain," MCA President Andrew Butcher told NEWS CENTER Maine in February. "From a workforce standpoint, we need multi-sector collaborations, which involve on-the-job training, creating a pathway for employment for community college participants, and [prioritizing] partnerships with academic institutions."
Karem Durdag, president of GWI Internet, told NEWS CENTER Maine in February that Mills' goal is ambitious but possible and necessary.
"This is going to redefine, for Maine, what it means to be part of the 22nd and 23rd centuries," Durdag said.