VIDEO: Pingree Highlights Funding Opportunity to Expand Rural Broadband in Maine
Washington, DC, December 19, 2018
Brunswick, Maine—This morning, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) held a press conference at CEI in Brunswick to raise awareness of the USDA ReConnect Program, a new package of grants and loans to improve Internet speeds in rural areas. Along with stakeholders in attendance, Pingree discussed the problems that slow Internet in parts of Maine creates for those who live and work there, and possibilities for how funding could be used.
“For too many Mainers, the information superhighway looks more like a narrow dirt road riddled with potholes. This is more than just an inconvenience for them—it’s a severe handicap. If we can’t bring their Internet speeds up quickly, our rural communities and businesses are simply going to get left behind in today’s economy,” Pingree said in a statement. “This funding is a positive first step to addressing a key need in rural America, which is why I have been proud to advocate for it on the House Appropriations Committee. The clear level of need in many parts of Maine makes them great candidates for funding. I hope many apply and want them to know my office is prepared to help however it can.”
Maine consistently ranks among the slowest in the country for broadband speed, with an overall average of 23.8 mbps and much lower speeds in many areas of the state.
As a member of the Rural Broadband Caucus, Congresswoman Pingree has supported legislation to increase broadband investment and has advocated for it on the House Appropriations Committee.
Local Stakeholder Statements
“Being able to have access to good broadband is so important for communities. The ReConnect program can be a big boost for those rural communities working to make it so their citizens have the same opportunities to connect as Maine’s urban areas,” said Peggy Schaffer of the Maine Broadband Coalition. “Maine can ill afford to continue with this digital divide and we are excited that this new USDA program can help provide a boost for communities to connect to the 21 century.”
“Maine has about 40,000 households that we believe meet the USDA ReConnect Program’s eligibility criteria,” said Heather Johnson, Director of ConnectME. “The combination of grant and loan funding will help our communities and their broadband service providers expand access to the extent that Maine is successful with the competitive process.”
“The Telecommunications Association of Maine (TAM) supports the efforts of the USDA and Rural Utilities Service to bring high speed broadband to rural Maine. TAM’s members are all rural broadband providers and we are eager to work with communities to develop the ubiquitous high speed broadband networks necessary to provide economic opportunities and social benefits to the rural areas of the state, said Ben Sanford, Executive Director of Telecommunications Association of Maine. “Additional federal support can help change the economic viability of a rural project, and we hope that the ReConnect program will spur meaningful advances in broadband access for rural communities throughout Maine.”
About the USDA ReConnect Program
Businesses, non-profits organizations, cooperatives, local governments, and tribes may apply for funding through USDA’s new ReConnect Program to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service.
USDA will make available approximately $200 million for grants (applications due to USDA by April 29), as well as $200 million for loan and grant combinations (applications due May 29), and $200 million for low-interest loans (applications due by June 28).
Projects funded through this initiative must serve communities with fewer than 20,000 people with no broadband service or where service is slower than 10 megabits per second (mbps) download and 1 mbps upload.
Approved projects must create access speeds of at least 25 mbps upload and 3 mbps download. Priority will be awarded for projects that propose to deliver higher-capacity connections to rural homes, businesses and farms. USDA seeks to stretch these funds as far as possible by leveraging existing networks and systems without overbuilding existing services greater than 10/1 mpbs.
Full details on the program are available at https://reconnect.usda.gov/s/