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.