Dan Daggett has deep roots in Brookton, a small town in Washington County, where he and his family run a financial services consulting business. On Wednesday, he had a successful Zoom call with two other people in other parts of the country. The day before, he had to cancel multiple meetings because his unreliable internet went down for several hours.
Those connection problems should soon be a thing of the past. Brookton and 10 surrounding communities will get high-speed broadband through an $8.1 million grant announced this week by the Maine Connectivity Authority.
“This new service is just going to make our lives easier,” Daggett said.
The Maine Broadband Agency has awarded a total of $34 million in federal funds for 12 projects that will bring the state closer to its goal;
Roughly 116,000 homes and businesses in Maine — nearly 18% of the state — don’t have broadband service, according to federal data. The grants announced Wednesday will expand services to more than 16,000 homes and businesses in 31 cities in nine counties.
“This is the largest digital broadband infrastructure investment ever made in the state,” said Andrew Butcher, chairman of the Maine Connectivity Authority. “And in some ways, we’re just getting started. It’s incredibly exciting to think about bringing 16,000 connections to those who don’t currently have broadband. It is a huge investment in our rural economy and rural communities, which will benefit so much from such an injection of funds and infrastructure.”
The Maine Connectivity Authority is a quasi-governmental agency created by the Legislature in 2021 to manage a massive influx of federal dollars to improve broadband access. The ConnectMaine Authority previously operated for 15 years and awarded between $750,000 and $1 million in grants annually to improve broadband access. But that agency has never had enough money to make the large-scale investments needed to fully connect poor and rural communities. By comparison, the newer agency has committed to spend $150 million from the American Savings Act and expects to receive more than $230 million from another federal infrastructure program.
The Connect the Ready grants announced Wednesday stem from the American Rescue Program Act and complement $17 million in private contributions from communities and service providers. The project was highly competitive and received 29 bids totaling $102 million. The agency will award a second round of grants this spring.
The Connect the Ready program has awarded funds to projects that are ready to be built, but the Maine Connectivity Authority also provides grants to help communities in the earlier stages of technical planning and to encourage “last mile” service by encouraging Internet providers to acquire existing ones. broadband only a little further down the road to individual homes and businesses.
“This investment signals that we are very much on the right track,” Bacher said.
“The key to success will be diversity of strategies and investments,” he added. “We’re prioritizing underserved rural areas, and we’re laying the groundwork for regional-scale readiness for long-term future investment.”
In Brookton, the grant is the result of years of planning, community input and collaboration. The Greater Greater East Region Economic Council is a non-profit organization formed by residents of remote communities on the outskirts of Aroostook, Washington and Penobscot counties. Sarah Strickland, the council’s economic director, said they started working on this project when they realized better broadband was central to all their economic goals, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that goal more urgent. A lack of high-speed Internet hinders children trying to do their homework, adults trying to access telehealth services, business owners trying to build their brands or simply order products.
“It’s going to make a really big difference in a lot of ways,” he said. One person wrote to Strickland about this news. “I can’t tell you how excited my teenage kids are.”
Daggett, who was recently elected board president, has long family ties to Brookton but has lived near Bath and Brunswick most of his life. He started his company just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He and his wife have finally moved to Brookton permanently, and he hopes the more reliable broadband to be built by Consolidated Communications within 18 months will prompt others to do the same.
“Many of those people can spend more time here and spend more of those dollars in our region as opposed to going back to where they came from,” he said. “Coming out of the pandemic has shown us more than ever that you don’t have to live where you work. Remote work is possible.”
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