Viewpoint: The internet and the Maine economy

By Doug Thomas

As a small business owner who also represented a largely rural community in the Maine State Senate, I know firsthand the importance of access to broadband in communities like ours. Access to high-speed broadband is important for entertainment, access to local news and information, communication with friends and family, but most importantly, for business growth and development. It’s surprising how many people I talk to who depend on the internet to make a living. From those buying and selling online, to those developing products they sell in faraway places that would never know about them if not for the internet.

There are more businesses that would like to be here but need faster internet connections that are coming as our fiber network expands. We have a quality of life that will attract high-quality employers and work-from-home employees when we have the connection speeds they need.

For too long, however, some policymakers in Washington seem determined to engage in partisan ping-pong with our ability to connect rather than establish internet regulation that protects an open internet while also ensuring investment and deployment of more and better broadband in communities like Ellsworth, Greenville or Ripley.

The internet, used by a majority of American adults today, was a rarity in households a mere 20 years ago, with only 18 percent of homes having internet access in 1997. Since that time, the internet, powered by ever-increasing broadband speeds, has changed virtually every aspect of our lives, from the way we shop to the way we learn and access basic government and health care services. This remarkable growth took place under a light touch regulatory framework backed by Democratic and Republican administrations.

Unfortunately, that bipartisan approach to the internet changed in 2015 when the Obama FCC determined that the only way to protect consumers’ unfettered access to the internet was to apply an intrusive regulatory regime known as Title II. The regime, first introduced in 1934 to regulate telephone monopolies, is, unsurprisingly, a remarkably bad fit for 21st-century technology. As a business owner myself, I understand how backward government regulations can affect future investment decisions, and the overly broad and vague Title II rules resulted in decreased investment in broadband deployment and innovation.

Now, some in Congress mistakenly want to overturn the FCC’s recent ruling that moved back to a light touch regulatory approach. You don’t move ahead by cementing in rules from the 1930s. A dynamic, evolving internet ecosystem calls for new legislation that permanently establishes clear rules of the road to preserve an open internet and foster broadband investment and development. Maine communities especially would benefit from a bipartisan solution to encourage broadband expansion into the more rural areas of the state.

This is a very important issue for Maine. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King need to lead the charge and get internet policy right, protecting consumers while ensuring continued broadband build-out in the many rural communities they represent. It’s time to put the political rhetoric on this issue aside, end the tit-for-tat and advance sensible solutions that spur investments that drive broadband access.

Doug Thomas is a former state senator and representative from Ripley who owns Doug Thomas Firewood.


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