Last month, the state awarded $5.6 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to connect more than 700 students and teachers in rural Maine with high-speed Internet service to support remote learning.
(TNS) — Last month, the Mills administration awarded $5.6 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to connect more than 700 students and teachers in rural
The ongoing public-private partnership, dubbed ConnectKidsNow!, involved seven internet service providers, 71 towns and a two-month window. It also provided a few lessons for how the state can best allocate the $15 million approved by
Because federal guidelines required the coronavirus relief money to be spent by the end of 2020, the application process for providers had to be simple and clear, said
That's a good template for next month, when companies are likely to begin applying for a slice of the bond money.
ConnectME is a component of the
"This has been a huge push on the part of the private sector to make this happen," said Battista, who called the project "one of the things I'm most excited about in broadband right now."
Battista spoke in a webinar hosted by the
In addition to Battista, Tuesday's panelists included
Another lesson gleaned from the ongoing effort to connect more students and teachers is the issue of utility poles and the lines that attach to them.
High-speed internet access most often requires fiber-optic cables. Although some are routed underground, most are strung from utility poles that also carry electrical wires and other equipment that is owned privately or publicly.
"The pole attachment of fiber has been one large and surprisingly complex barrier to getting fiber built out sooner," said Williamson, the PUC commissioner. "Access to poles, and getting fiber on them, is a costly process."
Williamson said his agency has been working on the issue since 2015. Under a "one-touch, make-ready" proposal adopted by a few other states, one company's professional could move others' gear on the pole to make space for wiring instead of having every company move its own gear.
If enacted, such a proposal could cut the cost of broadband expansion by 40 percent, Williamson said.
Chowaniec, vice president of
"To the extent we can facilitate efficient communication and efficient contractual relationship," he said, "that's going to speed up buildout and that's going to avoid disputes."
Battista, who said four different communications companies have wires on the poles near his house in
"When you have a pole-attachment process that is clear and easier and faster," he said, "the public subsidy goes further and the work goes faster."
Langley and Parham stressed the importance of broadband access in education and among those aged 50 and over, with many seniors already facing issues of social isolation and loneliness even before the pandemic made staying in touch more difficult.
Parham also said people between the ages of 55 and 64 are the country's largest-growing age group of entrepreneurs, and that in 2018 the 50-plus crowd contributed 48 percent, or $34 billion, to the state's gross domestic product while representing 43 percent of the population.
"As we look to attract people to retire here, as we hope that people will stay here," she said, "it's going to be important that we build out a strong internet system statewide."
(c)2020 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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