Backlash Against Broadband Stimulus Begins in Maine, With Proposed Legislation

Broadband Stimulus, Broadband Updates December 31st, 2009


WASHINGTON, December 31, 2009 – The legislative backlash against projects that have been awarded federal stimulus funding has begun, as two bills were introduced in the Maine legislature to de-fund a $25.4 million University of Maine broadband project.

According to the Bangor Daily News, two bills have been introduced, one in the state senate and the other in the state legislature, that would bar the university from using tuition money on broadband, or from exercising “undue” competition with existing broadband providers.

The Maine project, a public-private partnership between the University of Maine and Biddleford Internet Corporation, received $25.4 million to construct middle-mile infrastructure across rural Maine.

The project was one of the first 18 projects announced by Vice President Joe Biden on December 17, 2009.

Sen. Lisa Marrache, D-Waterville, the assistant Senate majority leader, introduced the billin the senate. “People are paying money in to go to college,” she told the Bangor Daily News. “I don’t think any of that money should be used to subsidize the broadband effort that really is competing with the private sector.”

Marrache said constituents raised the issue with her; additionally, the subject became a point of contention after attorneys representing telecom provider FairPoint criticized the university’s involvement in the project at a meeting of the State Broadband Advisory Council.

In the legislature, Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, serves on the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee, introduced the “undue” competition measure.

“If the university is able to bypass some of the competitive markets, and cherry pick, it could affect the ability to deliver broadband to others,” he told the Bangor Daily News.

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5 Responses to “Backlash Against Broadband Stimulus Begins in Maine, With Proposed Legislation”

  1. Steve Says:

    You know, virtually every central office in the country is on a fiber route these days, so I was surprised to see all the grants for middle-mile projects. Remember the internet bubble in the 1990′s? We were building middle-mile projects with that money. How is it that the government has waited almost a year to spend 2% of the EMERGENCY stimulus money only to fund redundant projects that hurt private enterprise? There are a lot of people who can’t get broadband, but it is a last mile problem. Telephone companies simply can’t afford to get broadband to people who are too far from town. There are solutions available and the problem could be solved for about $160 per person. See

  2. Bob Says:

    It is interesting the intial awards seem to favor “over-builds” of existing middle mile networks. It is not surprising however, as the majority of the awards favor “public-private partnerships”, given the current administrations view of the free markets ability to deliver solutions to problems. The fundamental challenge in many areas, at least the NE part of the country is one of adoption, not availability. Anyway, these “P3″ awards are touting the same promise we hear in other sectors such as healthcare— creating an allusion or promise of affordable (“free”) broadband for the masses as public entities try to run telecomm networks more cost effective than the private sector. Certainly we have some gaps in terms of availability in remote portions of the country, but then the old adage of diminishing returns come to mind. Is it really vital to our economic growth that 200 people in northern Alaska have a fiber network for broadband service? There is a reason it is not avaialble today — it is not sustainable. One has to wonder where the funding will come from to sustain many of these middle mile projects. Maine seems to get it with pending legislation to prevent publicly funded entities from competing with the private sector.

  3. Karl Says:

    As a Mainer without decent broadband service, I’d like to contribute my $.02 to the discussion…

    Bob’s advocacy of ADSL loop extenders is interesting. Can he, or anyone else, point to any production-scale DSL extensions that have been done successfully and that substantiate the $160/user figure. An important point in the Wikipedia piece is the importance of the gauge of wire that is in place. If someone is four or five miles out from a central office and relatively thin wire is in place, one will still be out of range and out of luck. Moreover, if the solution is to upgrade to a heavier gauge wire, then the cost figure could be expected to blow up.

    Then there is the phone company itself. FairPoint is struggling for its financial life. Its announced intentions are good, if amorphous. Maine’s middle mile project is designed as an open access platform that will allow any and all commercial vendors to utilize a modern high capacity 1100 mile fiber network in delivery of far richer services to 100+ communities in immediate proximity to it than the overwhelmed, under-capitalized telco can.

    Steve refers to “overbuilds”. On the ground here in rural Maine, I see only ‘underbuilding” on the part of telcos, cable companies, fixed wireless and other would-be ISPs. While I do not live in Alaska, and there are way more than 200 people just in my immediate vicinity that lack good broadband options, my suspicion is that Steve probably regards the whole State of Maine as a minor afterthought, a “diminishing return”. That is nuts!

    I won’t speak to the broader question of economic stimulus funding, its application to telecommunications infrastructure as a general principle, or the timing of the funding. There may well be situations where redundant spending is taking place. However, Maine is not one of them. Instead of painting with a simplistic, and telco-leaning broad brush, critics should look more carefully at the situation on the ground in the various locations where middle mile funding is being granted.


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