More than $100 million of the $1.9 trillion COVID-relief package passed by Congress last year has just been released to Maine to extend broadband access to rural parts of the state, officials say.
“It's exactly analogous to the story of electricity in the 1930s,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told Spectrum News during a virtual press conference on Thursday. King said that it hasn’t been an “economically rewarding opportunity” for the private sector to provide broadband to some rural areas, so government money will be used to build the broadband infrastructure needed for residents in remote parts of Maine to enjoy the connectivity already available in Maine’s cities.
”We have mountains, we have coastal islands, we have isolated communities. So, this is like building the highway system and we're providing linkages to every community in Maine,” King said.
The $110 million will be spent through Maine Infrastructure Ready, a competitive broadband infrastructure grant program administered by the Maine Connectivity Authority.. The program is focused on serving locations in Maine that currently lack access to reliable broadband, such as remote locations in Maine’s most rural counties. Through August, Maine’s Connectivity Authority will be working on building a public-private partnership with internet service providers on ways to bring broadband to rural areas. (Charter Communications is the parent company of Spectrum News.)
During the virtual press conference, White House American Rescue Plan coordinator Gene Sperling said that the money going to Maine is only a portion of the $60 billion total set aside nationwide to improve “universal broad and high quality modern infrastructure broadband each and every community.”
“The pandemic was many things but one thing was sure was a national teaching moment of the need for accessible broadband in the home that was strong enough that multiple people could go work and learn,” Sperling said. “I think the pandemic brought that home, literally brought that home in a way that we've never seen before.”
According to King, the investment in Maine is expected to bring high-speed, reliable internet connections to 22,500 households across the state.