It’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t have the internet. From email to streaming music and videos to accessing endless information in a matter of seconds, the internet has revolutionized the way we work and play. There is hardly an industry in the world that hasn’t been changed by the internet, and as a result has generated unprecedented economic growth and innovation.
However, Maine still faces challenges when it comes to access and speed. Today, 10 percent of Maine residents are underserved and have access to fewer than two internet service providers (ISPs).
In rural Maine, like Oxford County where I reside, the restriction to broadband access is even more striking. According to a report by Broadband Now, average download speeds in rural parts of the state are 62 percent slower than those in the rest of the state. Access speeds recommended by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) remain well below the minimum in the Pine Tree State.
With these challenges, investment in expanding broadband service is as important as ever. But while access to broadband is crucial for Maine’s economy, investment in our broadband infrastructure should come from private sources, not government. The laws and rules we employ should welcome and encourage private investment in our broadband infrastructure so taxpayers aren’t left on the hook for future, unexpected costs.
That’s why it’s troubling that groups are pressuring members of Congress to approve radical net neutrality regulations on the internet. Reinstalling Obama-era regulations, also known as Title II, would severely limit the expansion of broadband infrastructure by putting a chokehold on investment, slowing the progress Maine has made.
When FCC Chairman Ajit Pai repealed the 2015 regulations two years ago, it opened the door for ISPs to start building and expanding larger broadband networks. The FCC wanted to undo the damage of the burdensome regulations that cost the country hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in investment. A report found that broadband network investment fell more than 5.6 percent under Title II. It was the first time a decline had happened outside of a recession.
Maine has already started to see the benefit of ISP investment in broadband. Last year, Spectrum announced that it was bringing broadband to 650,000 homes throughout the state, including rural communities. Portland-based company Tilson announced in the spring that a recent $100 million investment will allow them to offer a wider range of internet products and services, including 5G rollout.
Broadband expansion has the potential to bring new opportunities to the state, including distance learning and telemedicine. For example, over 200 cities in Maine are classified as medically underserved, leaving residents without access to primary care. With greater broadband access, telemedicine could help people in these communities get medical care more easily through video conferencing. This will be easier with greater availability of 5G technology.
Maine has a specific set of needs when it comes to broadband service. Cities like San Francisco and New York shouldn’t be able to impose their definition of net neutrality onto the rest of the country. Mainers support a fair and open internet for all consumers, but in order for the private sector to flourish, government overregulation must be kept to a minimum. We can’t afford a government takeover of the internet at the expense of more jobs and economic growth. We must embrace the free market and let it work in our favor.
The internet worked fine long before Title II regulations. Supporters of Title II tried to paint a doomsday picture if these regulations were repealed, but since Chairman Pai’s decision two years ago, the internet is still intact. In fact, it’s better than ever. Congress doesn’t need to mess it up.
Representatives in Maine must do the right thing and choose economic growth over stifling government regulations. Mainers are counting on broadband investment to improve their lives and stay competitive in today’s economy.