AUGUSTA — A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would increase cell phone coverage in rural Maine received a public hearing before the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on Wednesday.
“The lack of cell phone coverage is more than just an inconvenience. It holds back our rural economy when businesses cannot use their cellphone at their place of work and it’s a safety hazard when Mainers cannot call for emergency services should they get in an accident on their way home from work,” said President Jackson. “This bill is about connecting Mainers with each other and the rest of the world.”
The bill – LD 1603, “An Act To Improve Cell Phone Service in Underserved Areas by Installing Wireless Base Stations at State-owned Facilities” – directs the Department of Administrative and Financial Services to work with NetworkMaine and the Connect Maine Authority to develop a plan to expand cellular telephone service to underserved areas of the State. This may involve installing wireless base stations at state-owned facilities, however, the bill leaves the significant authority to experts to determine how to best expand coverage.
Expanding cell phone coverage relies on the same fiber that brings broadband to rural areas. This plan could be developed in collaboration with other plans of Connect Maine to expand broadband service in similarly unserved areas.
“As cellular coverage expands across Maine and the world, the lack of access in the rural areas is both frustrating and debilitating,” said President Jackson. “While increasing access to reliable, high-speed internet is essential to keep Maine a competitive place for business and tourism, increasing access to cell phone coverage is also important. Both are critical to the economic future of this state and long overdue for the people of Maine.”
NetworkMaine operates the Maine School and Library Network, which has brought internet to almost 1,000 schools and libraries across the State. The Connect Maine Authority has partnered with DECD developed the 2018 Broadband Action Plan. Both groups have made significant progress in connecting more Mainers to the internet.
LD 1603 face additional work sessions in committee.