AUGUSTA – A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to improve access to high-speed, reliable internet in Caribou earned unanimous support in the Maine Senate, on Tuesday.
“Improving access to reliable, high-speed internet is about making sure that the families, small businesses and communities in rural Maine don’t get left behind. But all too often, internet service providers charge exorbitant fees to connect those living and working in what’s known as the ‘last mile’ because it doesn’t benefit their own bottom line,” said President Jackson. “I believe the people and small businesses in rural Maine are worth the investment. It’s why I am proud to partner with the community leaders in Caribou to get folks connected so students can participate in online learning, patients can get telehealth care and businesses can compete in the modern economy.”
The bill — LD 1949, “An Act To Amend the Caribou Utilities District Charter To Include Broadband Services” — to close the internet gap in Caribou by granting the Caribou Utilities District the authority to utilize public-private partnerships to build a network that internet service providers could plug into without charging customers living along the “last mile” a sizable fee to construct the necessary infrastructure.
“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.
LD 1949 faces additional votes in the Maine House before returning to the Senate for enactment.