Maine is the first state to win federal approval for its plan to broaden internet access, leading to millions of dollars in funding.

The state’s Digital Equity Plan outlines steps the state will take to expand access to high-speed, reliable internet and break down barriers to connections. It was accepted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Thursday.

Approval of Maine’s plan is the first step for the state to qualify for federal funding of between $12 million and $14 million that will pay for computers and other devices, refurbishing equipment and instruction for those who are unfamiliar with the internet, said Brian Allenby, director of program operations and communications at the Maine Connectivity Authority. 

The money is expected to be available late this year, and Maine must achieve its goals within five years, said Maggie Drummond-Bahl, strategic partnership director at the Maine Connectivity Authority.

The Maine Connectivity Authority is establishing the Maine Digital Equity Fund that will raise $15 million in philanthropic and private support from partners around the state.

In addition, more federal funding is on the way. About 35,500 Maine “broadband serviceable locations,” defined as residences and businesses where internet is commercially available, have no internet service and nearly 40,000 have slow or unreliable service, according to the authority. They will be eligible for about $272 million from the federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program expected to begin distributing money next year.


Maine has about 630,000 broadband serviceable locations.

Through the planning process, the Maine Connectivity Authority identified several areas to close the “digital divide.” That’s the gap between those with digital skills, who understand how to protect online security and have full access to the internet, and those who cannot afford internet service or lack the skills to fully use digital technology.

Maine’s Digital Equity Plan includes strategies to reduce barriers to connectivity for those who are most underserved, such as older Mainers, veterans, low-income families, rural residents, people with disabilities and minority communities.

Strategies include finding grant funding for local and regional infrastructure projects; expanding access to free or low-cost connectivity in affordable housing units; obtaining at least 25,000 donated devices for refurbishment from businesses, institutions and agencies statewide; providing access to affordable desktops, laptops and tablets and technical support by distributing 50,000 new and refurbished devices to Mainers who need them; and providing internet training.

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