Maine offers huge increase in broadband standards for grants
The new rules proposed by the state’s broadband internet authority would require taxpayer-subsidized broadband projects to be able to deliver speeds significantly faster than the current minimum standard and would significantly increase the portion of the state considered to be. insufficiently served by broadband.
The ConnectMaine Authority, also known as ConnectME, typically funds broadband infrastructure grants from a relatively small pot – around $ 750,000 to $ 1 million per year. – which comes from customer charges on the fixed telephone service. But with a $ 15 million state bond to distribute and tens of millions of dollars of federal broadband infrastructure to come, the authority’s board wanted to ensure that investments funded by the taxpayers would meet the needs of current and future residents, said ConnectME executive director Peggy Schaffer.
“There is more evidence that people are using higher speeds – we felt that if we are using taxpayers’ money, the basic infrastructure we are putting in place is good for another 20 years,” Schaffer said. . “We don’t want to come back and build this thing again.”
Last month, the council voted to make the standard for broadband service 100 megabits per second for upload and download speeds, 10 times its current “build-to” standard for grant-funded projects. A speed of 100 Mbps is fast enough to download a typical music file in a second, a large PDF document in about 15 seconds, and a 20-minute video in a minute, according to one service provider.
The board vote is subject to a 30-day public comment period and a public hearing on May 13 before a vote to confirm it later this month.
ConnectME has also revised its designation of areas “not served” by broadband. Unserved areas currently are those with internet speeds below 25 Mbps for download and 3 Mbps for upload. Under the proposed change, an unserved area would be an area with download speeds below 50 Mbps and 10 Mbps for upload. Downloading is getting data from the Internet and downloading sends data to the Internet.
About 11% of the state is currently not served by broadband, according to the authority. It’s unclear how many other locations would fall into the ‘unserved’ category if the standard were increased as proposed, but areas with access to wired internet service like Spectrum or Xfinity would meet the higher service standard, said Schaffer.
The new broadband designation would require grant-funded projects to have a capacity of 100/100 Mbps, but depending on their service plan, customers may not have access to these speeds. The new standard would not affect privately funded networks.
The change, especially in faster download speeds, reflects the fact that several household members are now heavily using video conferencing programs like Zoom for work, school, medical appointments and socializing. – sometimes at the same time. Streaming high quality video over the internet from home or office requires fast download speeds.
“In general, the public just wants this to work,” Schaffer said. “That’s what we want to do, to make sure people don’t have the vicious cycle of death when they try to connect to the Internet, especially on a network that the state has partially paid for. “
Many internet service providers are already building, or planning to build, networks that meet or exceed the broadband speeds offered by authorities, he said. in a memo. Most providers are already offering basic service plans above the intended “unserved” designation, he added.
The vast majority of the 27 broadband projects funded by ConnectME over the past 15 years have installed fiber optic cables capable of meeting the proposed standards, he said.
“Not only do we want to raise the standard to the state level, but we want businesses to start thinking about how they themselves improve their service and inspire them to do so,” Schaffer said.
But designating broadband at faster speeds could open up many more areas of Maine considered unserved and have negative consequences, said Benjamin Sanborn, executive director of the Telecommunications Association of Maine, which represents telephone service providers and State Internet.
“You can argue that there will be a whole bunch of areas in the state that will be eligible for funding either from ConnectME or with federal dollars,” Sanborn said. “What concerns us is that this will create a situation of over-construction of the existing networks”, while the really underserved areas are left out.
Telecommunications companies are not opposed to building networks that meet the 100/100 Mpbs standard, he added, but the state should focus on making sure everyone has access to it. the existing 25/3 Mpbs standard before changing the definition of “unserved”.
“If you keep that as a baseline, then we can get everyone to that baseline,” he said.
Others believe that the current standard is very outdated, especially as the use of the Internet continues to dominate modern life for many. The average family has 12 connected devices, a number that is expected to grow to 20 over the next four years, according to research from Parks Associates, an Internet market research and consulting company in Addison, Texas.
“Obviously 25/3 Mpbs is not enough to do anything interactive for distance learning or work or anything,” said Jeff Letourneau, executive director of Network Maine and a member of the ConnectME board of directors. “Forget about the fact that several people in the household are trying to do something at the same time.”
Letourneau has been pushing for a higher standard and doesn’t think the authority even needs its lower designation for unserved areas. A broad definition of “unserved” technically opens up more places for possible infrastructure grants, he added. However, ConnectME takes other factors into account when scoring and awarding grants, so projects in well-served areas are unlikely to be funded before places that do not have broadband service. .
“By setting artificially low standards, we’ve minimized the challenge in Maine – we’re not being honest,” Letourneau said. “Most of the projects we’ve funded over the past four years, service providers who are building new infrastructure do so with technology that can deliver 10 gigabits per second to a household. All we ask is 100 megabits per second. “
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