AUGUSTA – On Tuesday, the Maine Senate unanimously enacted legislation from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash to improve access to high-speed, reliable internet in Caribou. The measure will now go to Governor Janet T. Mills to be signed into law.
“High-speed reliable internet has become a fundamental part of how we learn, how we connect with one another and how we do business. It is really unacceptable that folks living and working in one of the largest cities in Aroostook County struggle to get online because large telecommunications companies don’t think connecting these Mainers is worth the investment,” said President Jackson. “But I know rural Maine is worth investing in. It’s why I’m proud to partner with Hugh and the Caribou Utilities District to make sure families and small businesses in Caribou don’t get left behind.”
The bill — LD 1949, “An Act To Amend the Caribou Utilities District Charter To Include Broadband Services” — would allow the Caribou Utilities District to leverage public-private partnerships in order to build a network to get broadband to customers living on what’s known as the “last mile.” The Caribou Utilities District could either provide the internet service directly to customers or build the infrastructure for internet service providers to plug into without charging the customer exorbitant construction fees. This flexibility aims to ensure that Caribou internet consumers can access high-speed, reliable internet at the lowest cost.
“Over 1,300 miles of dark fiber optic cable was constructed throughout Maine over 10 years ago. It travels through Caribou, however, since then, there is limited access for any customers to connect to this for high-speed broadband service. Private telecom companies in the region have not demonstrated an interest in expanding this infrastructure,” said Hugh A. Kirkpatrick, General Manager of Caribou Utilities District, in written testimony. “If the 130th Maine Legislative approves LD 1949, they will be fulfilling the charge of the ConnectMaine Authority for a community which has chosen this operational structure in order to expand broadband service availability throughout the City of Caribou and possibly the region.”
President Jackson proposed the legislation after conversations with Kirkpatrick, who has been working on the issue for years. Since Caribou Utilities District is a municipal entity, the organization is eligible for a wide range of grants available through ConnectMaine and potential federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was passed by Congress last year.
The governor has ten days to sign the bill, veto the bill or allow the bill to become law without her signature.