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Maine Gov. Paul LePage Vetoes State Broadband Fund

With only $500 committed, LePage called the legislation nothing more than a "feel-good" bill.

After unanimous passage through the House and strong support from the Senate, Maine’s municipal broadband fund bill – LD 1185 – was quietly vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage on June 24.

The bill would have created a $500 placeholder fund as a mechanism for financing the development of open-access municipal fiber networks throughout the state. LePage wrote in a veto letter addressed to the state Legislature that LD 1185 was nothing more than a “feel good” bill that would have done little for his citizenry.

“In order for Maine’s economy to move forward, part of what we need is reliable, affordable broadband Internet access across more of our state,” LePage wrote. “A few weeks ago I attended a launch event for a company whose goal is to ultimately deliver this type of service to 90 percent of Maine by the end of the year. That is just one company. It should come as no surprise; the private sector is already way ahead of Augusta politicians in identifying a business opportunity and implementing a strategy to deliver a needed product and service.”

Rick Bates, town manager of Rockport, Maine, disagreed with the governor’s decision and placed less confidence in the private sector’s ability to deliver reliable broadband to a state now dominated by Time Warner Cable and Fairpoint Communications. 

“I don’t think the market has stepped up,” Bates said. “They haven’t stepped up around the country until municipal networks have started to show some promise....The business model doesn’t make sense. There’s just not enough people here right now.”

Incumbent providers are often cast as the villains in these disputes, but governments simply have different goals than private industry, Bates pointed out. Rockport is nearing the end of a fiber-to-the-home feasibility study that might bring fiber connections to every business and home in the town. There might not be a short-term profit in such an investment, but the town is seeking the project not for monetary gain, but to serve its citizens with essential infrastructure, just as they build roads and bridges because they’re things people need, Bates explained.

“It is rather disappointing that he would veto something that had such overwhelming support,” he said. “[The veto] will probably get overturned by the Legislature, because it was unanimous in the House and then passed 27-8 in the Senate. There’s kind of a battle right now between [LePage] and the Legislature. He’s basically vetoing everything. That’s his thing.”

LePage has been keeping political columnists busy in recent weeks, following comments that the governor would “like to shoot” a Bangor Daily News cartoonist, and another comment that lawmakers from Lewiston should be “rounded up and executed in the public square.” The governor has also recently faced allegations of blackmail, causing some lawmakers to push for his impeachment.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.