Broadband in Maine: A Compelling Case Study of Its Benefits

By Tracy Scheckel, OTT Communications

Dirigo:  Broadband in Maine, We SHOULD lead

Last week we discussed a couple of the many bills regarding broadband in Maine that are floating around the Legislature.  We also hosted “Breakfast and Broadband” in Augusta with a dozen or so legislators joining us.

Broadband in MaineOur presentation focused on OTT’s company history, some of the insights we shared in last week’s blog, and a recap of our ConnectME funded FTTP projects.  As great as it was to share our thoughts and exchange ideas with those in attendance, it was even better to have some social time with our guests.

Case Study: Broadband Benefits to One Family

Representative Christina Riley of Jay made a point to thank us for our efforts to call attention to rural broadband in Maine and went on to share her personal stories about the importance of reliable broadband at her home and how it benefits her and her 17 and 18 year-old sons. She explained, “I sometimes stream audio from the State House so I can follow hearings and work sessions on issues of interest.” As far as the kids…….

Her older child, when he graduates high school this year, will have accrued 40 college credits through AP courses and distance learning from one community college and four U-Maine campuses.  For one AP exam, a course that was not offered at his school, he took advantage of an on-line self-study program to prepare.  His distance learning college courses have allowed him to replace high school electives with classes directly aligned to his intended engineering major.  The opportunity to earn these credits in advance can save upwards of $15,000 in tuition costs at a U-Maine school.

Broadband in Maine serves Lego Competition

A team photo with the trophy also includes his smiling face on the device that enabled his presentation in the first place.

Her 17 year-old boy has had numerous health issues that, on occasion, have kept him out of school for extended periods.  During one of these times, although he was entitled to a tutor at the school district’s expense, he opted to “attend” class using Skype, and pass assignments back and forth via Google Drive and email.  When his health issues kept him from attending the State Champion Lego League Robotics completion with his team, with Skype, he was able to make his portion of the presentation from his kitchen, 35 miles from the event.

In the case of distance learning vs. tutoring, there is also a financial benefit, but in this case it’s the taxpayers who benefit as the school district saved money on the tutoring expense.  Some quick research found that a school district cost for in-home tutoring could run approximately $18 / hour.

It Doesn’t Stop There

This is just one household that illustrates some of the benefits of reliable high-speed Internet connectivity.  There are many more.  Check out this video from Coastal Enterprises Inc. that emphasizes more benefits of broadband in Maine.

It seems like we hear a new story every day about how individuals benefit from reliable broadband access.  But what about the ones who don’t?  According to estimates from various sources:

  • There are 189,000 people in Maine without access to a wired connection capable of 25 Mbps download speeds.
  • Another 11,000 people in Maine don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.

That equates to 15% of Maine’s 1.33 million population with little or no access to the Internet. In the entire US, 10% of the population has less than 25 Mbps download speed.  Both in Washington and Augusta, legislators are trying to find ways to encourage and support investment in broadband infrastructure, which brings us back to our Broadband and Breakfast event and the message we hoped to convey:

Going Forward in the 128th Legislature

We are on the right track to achieve accessible broadband in Maine, but it’s important to note that LD 140 refers to eligibility requirements set forth in the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Network Access Fund Act.  We encourage our legislators to keep up the great work, but also to keep in mind a couple of key elements of the Municipal Gigabit Act as they tackle LD 140 to provide funding for municipal broadband infrastructure.

  • Right now, the Municipal Gigabit Act precludes a private entity from providing the 25% municipal match associated with the grant funding. This could hinder the opportunity for public/private partnerships that could save taxpayers money.
  • The Municipal Gigabit Act mandates open networks for grant eligibility. Sometimes open networks are the best solution; sometimes they might hinder competition rather than encourage it. Read more about that in last week’s post.

We ask our legislators to find a way to give municipalities the local control to implement broadband infrastructure and access to the network in a manner that best serves their unique citizenry.