Spurring Broadband Development through Maine's ConnectME Grants
On September 4, the ConnectME Authority  awarded its second round of grant awards to help spur the build-out of broadband communications services to unserved areas in Maine. More than $1.75 million was awarded and service is expected to be expanded to an estimated 12,500 residents. "This second round of grants shows that the ConnectME initiative is spurring private investment in broadband and cellular service across Maine," said Governor Baldacci . "These investments are enabling people in rural areas enhanced access to technology, transforming our state economy, and expanding business opportunities for more Mainers."
The governor, in conjunction with the legislature, created the ConnectME Authority  in 2006 with the goal of stimulating investment in advanced communications technology infrastructure in Maine "in the most rural, unserved areas of the state that have little prospect of obtaining service from a traditional provider." The Authority will "identify unserved areas of the state; develop proposals for broadband expansion projects, demonstration projects and other initiatives; and administer the process for selecting specific broadband projects and providing funding, resources, and incentives." It is funded by a 0.25% surcharge on  all "communications, video, and Internet service bills for retail in-state service." In its January 2008 Annual Report the Authority estimated the surcharge to generate  between $750,000 and $1 million per year. The fund was started thanks to $500,000 in "seed money" from the Maine Universal Service Fund.
According to a press release from the governor's office , the Authority judged the grant applications based on a number of criteria, including the "projected percentage of households that would be served; the level of public-private partnerships created; the level of community support for the projects; and the financial viability of the projects. Generally, successful projects are to be completed within one year of receiving the grant funding."
Five of the grant recipients  will work to expand access to high speed Internet service to more than 60 communities that are currently unserved and underserved and where there is little reason to suspect that service is coming. The sixth grantee  hopes to build a fiber optic cable network that will connect a number of health care facilities and provide high speed telehealth services.
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