(The Center Square) – Maine is getting a windfall of federal pandemic relief funding to help expand broadband internet access in the largely rural state.
The $128 million in relief funds, part of Maine's share of the American Rescue Plan Act, will be diverted to the Maine Connectivity Authority, a newly created quasi-governmental agency with the authority to build physical infrastructure, provide grants and loans for broadband projects, and partner with local governments to expand internet coverage.
Gov. Janet Mills said the pandemic has "laid bare" the need for better internet access in Maine, and the influx of federal relief funds will help provide better service.
"With this federal funding, we will redouble our efforts to ensure that all Maine people and Maine businesses, regardless of zip code, are able to utilize the vital tool that is broadband to improve their lives and grow our economy," she said in a statement.
Maine was listed as one of the top 10 worst states for broadband coverage, according to a recent report by BroadbandNow Research.
The Federal Communications Commission estimates more than 11% of the state has little or no access to broadband service.
The state's congressional delegation has sought to divert more federal money and resources to expanding internet access. Some communities have partnered to create a regional municipal utility district for broadband to expand coverage.
Last year, Mills directed $5.6 million in federal CARES Act relief money to help pay for new infrastructure for high-speed broadband to students in rural communities who struggled with a lack of connectivity during the pandemic when schools shifted to remote learning.
The funding is being distributed in grants to several internet service providers to expand broadband infrastructure in poorly served areas.
The state's voters previously approved a $120 million bond bill that included $15 million to pay for expanding high-speed internet service in parts of the state.
The FCC says upload speeds of 3 megabits-per-second and download speeds of 25 megabits-per-second are the basic thresholds for high-speed broadband connections.
Maine isn't the only state struggling to expand broadband access following the pandemic.
Nationwide, an estimated 22% of households, or roughly 28 million, lacked high-speed access to the internet from home last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.