December 21, 2013

Report: Better broadband would aid Maine economy

While 93 percent of homes have Internet access, the speeds are inadequate for businesses, a study finds.

By David Sharp
The Associated Press

Maine stands to get an economic boost in the form of thousands of jobs if it can increase broadband access, but it could be left behind by other states if it fails to take steps to do so, according to a task force.

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Expansion of broadband access could create thousands of jobs in Maine, according to a new state task force report. File photo by John Patriquin /Staff Photographer

A report by a state task force outlines eight recommendations for the improved utilization, integration and growth of broadband Internet in the business, government, education and health care sectors.

The recommendations made last week range from providing a three-year tax credit for staff training and marketing to help small- and medium-sized businesses move online to expanding the state’s laptop program so all public schoolchildren from kindergarten through high school have access to a laptop or tablet device. It also suggests that high-speed connections could help elderly residents stay in their homes longer and save health care dollars, thanks to advances in telemedicine.

Full implementation of the task force’s recommendations could add more than 11,000 jobs, paying nearly $500 million in income and generating more than $70 million in state and local tax revenue over 10 years, according to Planning Decisions Inc., a Portland-based planning and research firm.

Warren Cook, task force chairman, said the state will put itself in peril if it neglects the technology infrastructure, which he described as “every bit as important for Maine as roads, piers and airports.”

“There’s more than opportunity here. There is also danger. Other states, other nations are racing ahead to develop broadband communication. If we fall behind in installing and using broadband technology, we will remain isolated and distant from markets relative to our competitors for another century,” Cook said in a statement.

About 93 percent of Maine homes have access to some form of broadband, and about 75 percent of those homes take advantage of it, said David Maxwell, program director for the Connect ME Authority, which aims to connect all Maine homes to the Internet.

Those figures put Maine above the national average. But while the state has made strides in connecting homes to the Internet, it ranks last in New England when it comes to the highest speeds demanded by businesses and health care companies, he said.

“The governor has been very responsive to the recommendations. He has circulated the report to all relevant commissioners asking them to work on implementing those recommendations they can,” Maxwell said.

The Governor’s Broadband Capacity Building Task Force was funded through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

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