Whether you are working from home, strapping on a mask before heading out the door, unemployed, or trying to make sure your kids sit still long enough for an online class, life is different during a pandemic. Many Mainers face difficult choices as we try to figure out what work and education looks like, all while staying safe. That’s made harder by poor internet access in rural Maine.

As a member of the Labor and Housing Committee, I’ve focused my work on improving working conditions for Mainers across the state. In the past, that has meant supporting legislation to ensure workers get a fair wage and receive the benefits they deserve. I also worked on giving Mainers educational and career development opportunities.

This past session I co-sponsored Belfast Democratic Sen. Erin Herbig’s bill to support the Maine Ocean School which prepares Mainers for employment in marine science, technology, transportation and engineering. This school is just one essential effort contributing to educating the next generation of trades workers here in Maine. However, COVID-19 has shown us that if you don’t have good internet access, you can’t take advantage of the few opportunities that do exist.

The Department of Education has designated almost every county in the state with the “green” status, meaning that fully in-person learning can take place. However, most schools are opting for a hybrid model that includes some remote learning. As a result, part of the time some students will be attempting to learn from home over the internet.

Many parents are also still working from home, at least part-time, or trying to navigate unemployment or securing other benefits to keep food on the table and rent or mortgage payments covered. All this means that high-speed access to the internet can no longer be a luxury afforded to folks in cities alone. Quality internet access is now directly linked to our jobs, our safety and our children’s futures.

Rural Maine needs real high-speed internet. As a mostly rural state, we have a lot of work to do to ensure that folks can access high-speed internet to work and learn remotely. We made progress this past session, but there is still more to do. The ConnectME Authority defines unserved populations as locations where broadband service is less than 25Mbps/3Mbps. Many areas here in District 98, particularly in Frankfort and Swanville, experience speeds less than 10Mbps/1Mbps. This is totally unacceptable, and makes it nearly impossible for folks to work, learn or connect remotely.

This session, I supported a bond measure to help Mainers get more access to broadband which passed in the statewide election on July 14. This funding is crucial to further develop broadband access in every corner of the state. The bond isn’t enough to complete the job, though. We need to continue to look at public/private partnerships and other outside the box ideas to get true high speed internet to all parts of Maine.

By rule the Legislature can’t vote remotely, even if we had good enough high-speed internet, so we need to get back into session to work on this. That’s why all Democrats and all independents have now voted twice to return to session so that we can pass helpful legislation. Unfortunately, most Republicans did not vote at all, blocking us from returning. Doing the work we were elected to do should not be a partisan issue. We need to get back to work so that we can make sure all Mainers can make a living, educate their children, and connect with loved ones safely.

Improving rural high-speed internet should be a priority for every Maine legislator, I know it is for me. I want to get back to work in Augusta so that I can do what I was elected to do: help make your life better. You need access to true high-speed internet, and together we can make that happen.

Rep. Scott Cuddy is running for a second term in the Maine Legislature. A lifelong Winterport resident, he represents House District 98, including Frankfort, Searsport, Swanville and Winterport.