It shouldn’t take a pandemic to underscore the importance of high-speed internet in our state. Rural Maine’s struggle with connectivity has been going on for years, but with COVID-19, the true consequences of slow or no internet can no longer be ignored.
During the last few months, residents throughout Maine have voiced their frustration. Paul Armstrong’s small business in Palermo is floundering because the internet service in his area is practically non-existent. Ray Smith of Windham, an occupational therapist for children with developmental and physical challenges, now counsels his young clients by video chat due to COVID-19. He describes many of the sessions as “disastrous” because some of his clients have such poor internet service. A retired teacher from Lewiston, Joyce Bucciantini, laments the learning divide between those students who have high speed internet and those who do not.
No matter where we live in Maine, and no matter our age, every Maine household should have access to high-speed internet.
The Maine Broadband Coalition, of which AARP Maine is a member, estimates that 85,000 households in our state have no access to high-speed internet. For many, this means they have little or no connection to family, friends, and critical services such as tele-medicine and counseling. For some, lack of high-speed internet creates barriers to doing business and creating jobs. Still others, particularly older Mainers, miss out on opportunities to offset loneliness, depression and isolation.
This is the time to take action, and I urge all Mainers to vote in the Maine State Primary and Special Referendum Election on July 14th, and to vote YES on Question 1. Question 1 is a ballot referendum providing $15,000,000 in funding for high-speed internet expansion to underserved and unserved areas. This will particularly impact rural areas of Maine that currently lack the infrastructure for high-speed internet. Of great significance is the fact that the $15M bond will be matched by $30 million in federal and other funds to triple the impact.
This is an opportunity not to be missed. Maine is a rural state with a far-flung population. If Maine invests now, we can help Mainers, particularly in rural areas, who don’t have access to reliable, high-speed internet service. It is essential for Mainers of all ages to be able to stay connected to friends and family, but it is equally important for them to be able to access their caregivers, doctors, and other health professionals. High-speed internet is a smart investment that will help businesses grow and help students gain access to education even when they are at home.
Access to high-speed internet is extremely important to daily life in Maine, and not just during the coronavirus pandemic. Support of this referendum will put Maine on the right track. I urge you to vote Yes on 1 on July 14.
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