Maine is the latest battleground for local telecommunications authority. A bill in the state’s House of Representatives threatens to halt investment in “The Pine Tree State” at a time when local communities are taking steps to improve their own connectivity.
"I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means"
Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram) introduced HP 1040; it has yet to be assigned to a committee. Like most other bills we’ve seen that intend to protect the interests of the big national incumbent providers, this one also has a misleading title: “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment.” Realistically, the bill would result in less investment by discouraging a whole sector - local communities - from making Internet infrastructure investment.
Large national companies have thus far chosen not to invest in many Maine communities because, especially in the rural areas, they just aren’t densely populated. In places like Islesboro and Rockport, where residents and businesses needed better connectivity to participate in the 21st century economy, locals realized waiting for the big incumbents was too big a gamble. They exercised local authority and invested in the infrastructure to attract other providers for a boost to economic development, education, and quality of life.
Not The Way To Do This
If HP 1040 passes, the community will first have to meet a laundry list of requirements before they can exercise their right to invest in broadband infrastructure.
HP 1040 contains many of the same components we see in similar bills. Municipalities are only given permission to offer telecommunications services if they meet those strict requirements: geographic restrictions on service areas, strict requirements on multiple public hearings including when they will be held and what will be discussed, the content and timelines of feasibility studies, and there must be a referendum.
The bill also dictates financial requirements regarding bonding, pricing, and rate changes. Municipalities cannot receive distributions under Maine’s universal service fund.
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