Sen. Angus King’s office announced Sept. 24 that 23 school districts across the state will receive a total of $1.6 million from the American Rescue Plan Act aimed at shrinking the “digital divide.” 

In Waldo County, Regional School Unit 20 in Searsport will receive over $53,000, while Lincolnville School District is slated to get $20,800.

Chris Downing, superintendent of RSU 20 schools, said the majority of the Emergency Connectivity Fund will update student devices in grades 3 through 5. The remainder, he said, will be used for reimbursement on cellular hotspots for internet connectivity, should those need to be deployed.

The funds will be distributed by the Federal Communications Commission and are the first wave from the “Emergency Connectivity Fund” created by the ARPA. According to the press release, additional grants will be forthcoming in the months ahead and interested applicants can still seek program funding, with details available at emergencyconnectivityfund.org.

King previously announced that $128 million would be delivered from ARPA to expand Maine’s broadband funding. Combined with the funding the state is projected to receive from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act upon House passage, the state will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to increase affordable, high-speed broadband access statewide and narrow Maine’s digital divide.

“Students are returning to their classrooms, but the digital divide remains a major challenge,” King said in the announcement. “A high-speed broadband connection is a must-have for young people pursuing their education.

“As more research and assignments move online, we must ensure that students aren’t blocked from completing their work by insufficient connectivity at home. These funds from the ARPA are a needed step forward to help ensure that every student, in every community, has a chance to succeed academically during this pandemic and beyond.”

The Mills administration has also been working to bridge the digital divide. In addition to establishing the Maine Connectivity Authority, the governor dedicated $5.6 million in CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds in partnership with private internet providers to build out permanent internet infrastructure to more than 730 students across rural Maine. 

Gov. Mills’ administration also secured mobile hotspots and learning devices for nearly 24,000 students across Maine after schools suspended in-classroom instruction and adopted remote learning earlier this year.