Silver Linings: Broadening broadband in rural Maine

5 mins read

Extremely dependable, constant high-speed web would possibly solely be a dream to many rural Mainers, together with older individuals making an attempt to communicate with household through the pandemic.

State Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, is sponsoring a invoice to broaden high-speed web in rural areas. Submitted picture

A invoice sponsored by state Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, goals to make that dream come true over the following 5 years.

The invoice requires a $100 million bond that will leverage federal funding to assist construct the infrastructure that will broaden broadband web to 98% of rural households, Bennett mentioned in a current telephone interview.

That’s estimated to value $600 million, he mentioned.

“I anticipate a variety of federal cash might be accessible if we have now a plan in place,” Bennett mentioned.

The Federal Communications Fee has solely awarded $9 billion of the $20 billion accessible for broadband infrastructure across the nation, he mentioned.

AARP Maine, a member of the Maine Broadband Coalition, helps Bennett’s invoice on behalf of its greater than 200,000 members, State Director Lori Parham mentioned.

AARP Maine State Director Lori Parham

“AARP cares about this concern for a lot of causes,” she mentioned.

• Serving to older adults age in place productively and safely.

• Enhancing entry to telemedicine, civic engagement, family and friends, leisure and on-line studying. This stuff would offer social interplay and assist with well being challenges.

• Serving to household caregivers and youngsters of all ages who want it for education.

“The COVID pandemic has shed an excellent brighter mild on all of those points,” Parham mentioned.

She mentioned broadly accessible broadband would assist companies efficiently serve neighbors and the nation.

Folks ages 55-64 are the most important rising age group of entrepreneurs, she mentioned.

Bennett additionally sees the laws as a strategy to improve social interplay.

“Clearly, on this time of pandemic, it’s vital to see, discuss with and have lengthy, intimate conversations over the web,” he mentioned, particularly for remoted individuals who “haven’t been hugged in a very long time.”

And as soon as the pandemic passes, widespread high-speed web might assist stanch the mind drain of younger professionals leaving the state for jobs and “assist individuals in Maine construct futures right here.”

Entry to telehealth (distant physician’s visits) is one other issue for older Mainers, Bennett mentioned.

“The power of somebody with mobility points, getting alongside in years and who lives in a rural space, to look within the eye of a prime physician, is tremendously liberating and useful and enlivening,” he mentioned.

He mentioned it’s unclear the place precisely higher web is required (“the information could be very poor”) so the state must create a map — “drill proper all the way down to neighborhoods” — because the wiring and towers are put in.

A part of the issue with mapping is that the personal corporations that present broadband are “extremely reluctant” to share their information, Bennett mentioned. They think about it proprietary (mental property) and “none of our enterprise.”

However wiring the state for high-speed web is within the public curiosity, he mentioned.

“If (the businesses) wish to get public funds, they should be cooperative,” he mentioned.

He likened the mission to rural electrification within the Nineteen Thirties, when Congress handed an act to wire rural communities. Electrical energy was then frequent in city areas however largely unavailable in rural locations.

Bennett sees wiring rural areas for broadband as a nonpartisan concern that he hopes might be embraced by Democrats and Republicans within the Maine Legislature.

“Democracy itself is enhanced by high-speed web,” he mentioned.


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