We can’t wait any longer for reliable, high-speed internet

By Sen. Erin Herbig | Oct 10, 2019
Sen. Herbig visits InnovaSea in Morrill, one of many businesses struggling without access to reliable, high-speed internet.

I serve in the Maine Senate to break down barriers to success in rural Maine, and lack of access to reliable, high-speed internet creates one of the most significant barriers we face. It hurts people like Caitlin Brooke, a young marketing consultant living in Palermo. After earning an MBA and working in the private and nonprofit sectors in Boston and Portland, Caitlin came back to Waldo County so she could contribute to the community where she and her partner, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, had grown up.

Caitlin represents everything we could hope for in a Waldo County kid. But there’s one major barrier to Caitlin’s success: She loses her internet connection on rainy days. According to her internet service provider, there’s a dip in the line that fills with water. On those days, Caitlin has to stop helping her clients and start calling her neighbors to find someone with an internet connection.

“I’m a ‘glass is half-full’ kind of person, so I do see this as a blessing to meet neighbors,” Caitlin told me, “but their kindness should be reserved for neighborly things, like a cup of sugar or some help haying, instead of my internet usage.”

She said it feels like punishment for trying to do business in rural Maine.

I know how Caitlin feels, because I don’t have reliable internet access either. My family uses a cellular hot spot at home. It’s our only option. If we’ve used up our data for the month, I go to a library, school or café to do my job, just like thousands of other Mainers in this same situation across rural parts of our state. Each day, they work to make Maine a better place, yet this obstacle — access to reliable, high-speed internet — stands in their way. After everything they do for us, are we doing enough for them?

To fix this problem, we must expand internet access and increase internet speeds across rural Maine. This year, I introduced a $15 million bond to do that. My bond targeted communities like Caitlin’s. But it didn’t get the two-thirds majority support it needed.

At first glance, $15 million might look expensive. But we already pay for this problem every single day. We pay each time a house doesn’t sell because it doesn’t have a good internet connection. We pay each time a farmer comes in from the fields, only to wait until midnight to send an invoice because earlier in the evening the internet was too slow. We pay each time a student can’t do their homework because it requires an internet connection they don’t have. And we pay each rainy day, when a small business owner must call her neighbors in search of reliable internet. If we invest in these farmers, students, families and entrepreneurs, they’ll invest in us.

When we hold our next legislative session in January, I’m going to submit another bill. I’m going to ask for $15 million from the General Fund to expand access to reliable, high-speed internet across rural Maine. I’ll do everything I can to pass my bill, but I can’t do it alone. Call your state representative and ask if they supported my bond this summer. If they didn’t, ask for their support of my next bill. If they did, ask them to help get their fellow representatives on board as well. Sometimes we suffer setbacks, but I know that if we work together and don’t give up, we’ll get there in the end.

Sen. Herbig is serving her first term in the Maine Senate, representing Waldo County. She lives in Belfast.

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