“An Act To Promote Maine’s Economic Development and Critical Communications for Rural Family Farms, Businesses and Residences by Strategic Public Investments in High-speed Internet”
AUGUSTA – Senator Woodsome, Representative Dion and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, my name is Nancy Smith, I live in Monmouth and I am the Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine. We are a statewide non-partisan non-profit organization working to improve Maine’s economy, protect its distinctive character and communities, and enhance our state’s quality places. We support this bill because we believe strategic investments in broadband will make headway in achieving these objectives.
Rural Maine; how many different ways do we define it? This bill focuses on rural areas as the 6% of the state unserved by high-speed internet. I spoke last week in support of LD 163, which defined rural areas as towns with a population below 1500 people. Though the data shows that the economic drivers in Maine are, for the most part, located in the more populated areas of
Cumberland and York Counties and the Midcoast region, most of what we all recognize as Maine is in the rural areas; Aroostook County potato fields, Downeast lobster boats and the western Maine forests. These areas are not postcards. Though they are beautiful, these places are where Maine’s farmers, fishermen and forestry professionals live and work.
Today, with more people first choosing where they live and then seeking work that suits that
location, rural Maine has potential for additional forms of economic activity. This isn’t an either/or proposition. We need to look to our natural resource base and to the quality of place that draws people to live here. Economic strength is possible in both strategies, and frankly they build off one another. I’ve engaged in both economies. I worked in the forestry industry for close to twenty years and was part of a central Maine family livestock farm for more than fifteen years. After serving in the Legislature for eight years, I now choose to live in Monmouth while working out of a Portland office a few days a week. My working life in Maine predates the internet – I remember when we got our first office computer at the forestry field office in Lincoln, and I have to say I don’t miss dial up access. A call to increase the rate of strategic broadband investment and leverage additional federal funding, as proposed in this bill, is a significant step that GrowSmart Maine fully endorses.
The one caution I would raise is in the language that would prioritize expansion of high-speed
Internet into unserved rural areas a key emphasis of ConnectME efforts. Public investments in
infrastructure, be it roads, water and sewer, or broadband, must balance costs of investments with likely returns. There must be creative and strategic methods to connect farmers, fishermen and other natural resource businesses as well as those who simply choose to live remotely, without the costs of last-mile infrastructure down every last mile in Maine. I encourage this committee to seek that balance.