THUMBS UP to Fletcher Kittredge, founder and CEO of GWI, for bringing attention to Maine’s broadband infrastructure, which is steadily falling behind that of other states.

Kittredge, who started the Biddeford-based Internet service provider two decades ago, has come up with a 10-point plan for improving broadband access in Maine. He points to a report ranking the state 49th out of 50 for quality and availability of broadband access. Another recent study placed Maine as tied in 37th place for average broadband Internet speed.

This is an issue that should be kept in the minds of policymakers, since it has an impact on every sector of the economy and every corner of the state.

A state task force late last year released a report on Maine’s lagging efforts on high-speed Internet. The group found that while 93 percent of Maine homes have access to broadband, only 75 percent are connected, and only 59 percent of Maine small businesses have a website.

As a rural and spread-out state, Maine already has trouble drawing investment in information technology infrastructure, which gravitates toward densely populated, customer-heavy areas. The lack of use only hurts the state more.

The task force also issued recommendations for correcting the problem, actions that it said would add more than 11,000 jobs and generate more than $70 million in state and local tax revenue over 10 years.

These recommendations, as well as Kittredge’s, should be a call to action. State-of-the-art broadband offers entrepreneurs the ability to start and grow businesses anywhere. That will benefit Maine, if it can only take advantage.

THUMBS DOWN to Congress for once again kicking a substantial issue just a little farther down the road, so to speak.

This time, it’s the looming bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund, which supports state transportation projects. The fund was looking at a shortfall of about $16 billion until Congress passed a stop-gap measure worth $10.9 billion just before leaving for summer recess.

That saves most of the highway projects scheduled through next May, but it also guarantees that Congress will be debating the issue all over again in a few months. That is not good news in Maine, a geographically large state that depends on a vast network of roads to support economic activity and is falling behind on its road improvement projects.

Driving the shortfall is the failure to increase the gas tax, which populates the highway fund and has been stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993. Considering inflation, that calculates to a 64 percent cut in highway funding in the last two decades, even as costs and miles of road have steadily increased.

A bipartisan proposal out of the Senate last month called for raising the gas tax by 12 cents over the next two years and indexing it to inflation. In an election year, the tax increase was scuttled.

Let’s hope Congress has more sense when the issue resurfaces next spring.

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