AUGUSTA – It’s an issue that comes up again and again in the Pine Tree State – high speed internet (or the lack thereof).
A crowd in the Maine State House Tuesday was trying to gather support for a rural broadband bill.
The legislation would put $15 million from the state’s general fund to the ConnectME Authority.
No small sum, but supporters said Maine can’t afford not to.
“We have long days as it is,” said Jim Buckle, of The Buckle Farm in Unity, “and spending late nights waiting for the speed to come up just isn’t acceptable anymore.”
Lawmakers took public comment on the bill, LD 2021, Tuesday afternoon.
Opponents said ConnectMe is already getting a funding increase, and that tax dollars should first go to infrastructure repairs.
“The thing we need to do is roll back some of the regulations that exist for ISPs, give them the incentive to go that last mile. I don’t think we need to grow the size and scope of government to accomplish this,” said Jacob Posik, the communications director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.
But many of those gathered said Maine is falling behind. The Belfast senator who sponsored the bill, Erin Herbig, said she does not have reliable internet at home.
“We are tired of being told by people who have access to the internet constantly that this investment is not worth it. Mainers lose when students can’t submit their homework online,” said Sen. Herbig.
The ConnectME money would go to investing in a public-private partnership involving municipalities and providers.
That’s something some city leaders are already hoping to take advantage of for their own fiber network projects.
“We’re hoping we can partner with the state of Maine on a funding source that could be provided through this legislation,” said Thomas Kittredge, Belfast’s economic development director.