Houses in Maine are selling at breakneck speed. Big homes, small homes, commercial properties and just about everything in between. Houses are even selling sight unseen to out-of-state buyers looking to flee cramped cities or coronavirus hot spots. In fact, home sales have continued to rise by double digit percentage points month after month, with July numbers 14 percent higher than the previous year.
Those who can work remotely have the advantage of being able to decide where to live – and why not Maine? It sure is nice. The state has hundreds of miles of coastline, beautiful lakes and rivers, mountain regions and plenty to do year-round. If you like the outdoors, there are few places better than Maine.
That is, until you open up a computer to begin your workday. Need to send an email – sure. Need to host a three-person Zoom call – probably not!
For many Mainers, the ability to access fast and reliable internet is something they can only dream about. There is a patchwork of infrastructure winding through the rural roadways of Maine. Residents, especially those who live north of Portland, know all too well how difficult it is to get quality service.
Like other large infrastructure projects that have been tackled throughout our nation’s history, such as the creation of telegraph lines beginning in the 1850s, we’ve relied on public-private partnerships to entice companies to go those last few miles so that everyone in the country can have access to the service. We find ourselves in the same situation now with internet service.
Maine’s rocky, mountainous geography, which is a draw in its own right, also makes it difficult to position towers or satellites to broadcast unfettered broadband signals. With many houses situated far from a main road, it makes it less attractive for service providers to run the infrastructure necessary to serve the homes off the beaten path.
The state continues to make strides in reaching those hard-to-find spots, but a glimpse into the proposed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) shows that a $65 million investment may soon make its way to the states. We have our Independent senator, Angus King, to thank.
This comes on the heels of a statewide infrastructure bond approved by voters last year that would allocate $15 million to expand high-speed internet. The funds will be used to create a quasi-government agency tasked with bringing broadband to the outer regions of the state.
The importance of high-quality, high-speed internet cannot be overstated, and it is about time it became a priority at every level of government. As we rebuild our physical infrastructure, which includes bridges, highways and even sidewalks, we must build in improvements to broadband access and ensure the funds are there to pay for them.