Like many states, Maine is at a crossroads. Decisions made now around rural Internet access will impact the state for decades, just as smart decisions to electrify farms and rural regions dramatically improved quality of life, the economy, and transformed society.
Today, there is a robust dialogue at the state and national level about improving the quality of the broadband network so that we can remain competitive in the digital economy, but it wasn’t always so.
As Mainers debate the best approaches to improving broadband access in communities throughout our state, we should take heart in the knowledge that we have an extensive open-access middle-mile fiber network to build on.
It can be hard to hear the truth, but here it is: When it comes to the problems with Maine Broadband, there are no magic bullets. No wireless, cable, or phone provider is going to ride in on a white horse and chase away the “bad guys” that jeer Maine for how bad our broadband is.
Every once in a while, each of us experiences what seems to be a slow connection at home or at work. Perhaps a movie is not streaming properly or a download is taking longer than we expect. The question is, is the problem with the Internet connection, with our computer, or with the remote web server that is delivering the content to us. In these cases, we can use a speed test to measure our connection speed and see if it is contributing to the problem.
There has never been more energy around better broadband in Maine than in 2015. South Portland recently announced that its municipal network was coming online, Islesboro voted to spend $200,000 designing and planning for a municipal broadband network, and in the Maine Legislature, a handful of important bills have passed out of committee and will be coming to the House and Senate floors for debate.
Maine has a broadband problem. It’s been discussed broadly in the local and national media, in events and conferences, and in the Maine State House in Augusta. Multiple studies have shown that our broadband speeds are at or near the bottom of the pack among states, and are far slower than what is available in many third world countries. This deficiency is alarming given the steadily increasing importance of the Internet for our economy.
By now, we all understand that businesses need high speed Internet access to thrive in today’s economy. Businesses communicate with their customers online, use cloud computing to keep their books and maintain customer data, and buy and sell goods over the Internet. The Internet and commerce have become so intertwined that 34% of new commercial jobs created are directly attributable to broadband Internet access.
There is good news for consumers frustrated with the high cost of cable and satellite TV services; in recent months, the list of options for streaming popular programming has grown longer and streaming TV keeps getting easier.