Roughly 80 percent of Maine households are now considered “unserved” by high-speed Internet service.

That’s because the ConnectME Authority, which oversees the state’s broadband service, on Friday adopted a new standard to define adequate service levels.

Previously, the ConnectME Authority’s broadband standard was a download speed of 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps), which roughly 95 percent of Maine households have access to, according to Phil Lindley, executive director of the ConnectME Authority. But during an afternoon meeting, the authority’s board voted 4-0 to adopt a new standard that considers an area “unserved” if residents don’t have access to download and upload speeds of at least 10 Mbps. Currently, roughly 20 percent of Maine households have access to broadband speeds that fast, Lindley said.

The national average for download speeds is 11.5 Mbps, according to Akamai Technologies, which releases quarterly reports assessing broadband speeds globally.

Though the change doesn’t have any immediate implications for broadband customers, supporters, including Gov. Paul LePage, say the upgraded standard is a key step in improving the state’s business climate.

The standard is used by the authority to prioritize broadband-expansion projects it funds in “unserved” areas. Last year, companies or municipalities submitted 35 grant applications, but ConnectME could fund only eight with its $700,000 budget, Lindley said.

“It shows there’s still quite a demand for projects in unserved areas,” he said.

Under the previous standard, only 5 percent of the state was eligible for ConnectME Authority grants; now roughly 80 percent will be eligible. The grant allocation process will prioritize those areas most in need, Lindley said, adding that to really affect broadband speeds, more funding will be needed.

The authority receives its funding from a 0.25 percent surcharge on consumers’ landline telephone, cable and Internet bills. Cellular service providers are exempt from collecting the surcharge. But efforts to increase funding for broadband expansion are underway. At least 20 bills introduced in the Legislature this session have some implication for broadband service, including ones that will seek to provide funding through bonding, Lindley said.

“I’ve heard talk from some legislators — I haven’t seen the bills yet — of removing the cellular exemption or increasing the rate,” he said.

“This is the most legislative interest in broadband issues since I’ve been doing this job,” said Lindley, who became director of the authority in 2007. “There are a lot of reasons for that — Google Fiber, the president. …”


Google Fiber is the Google subsidiary that is launching gigabit Internet service in select cities around the country. President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for the repeal of laws that prevent local communities from creating their own broadband networks.

The new 10 Mbps standard is long overdue, according to Tim Schneider, Maine’s public advocate.

While it’s nice to be able to say 95 percent of the state has access to broadband Internet service, “that is largely an artifact of a definition that the state has used for some time,” Schneider said. “This change in definition will do a much better job describing the gap of where we are and what we want to have as a state.”

Besides the recognition that download speeds need to increase, the inclusion of a standard upload speed is an important change in scope, Schneider said.

“There are other states looking at download speeds, but we’re out in the lead adopting symmetrical standards, which is really important for business development,” Schneider said.

Download speeds are what most consumers focus on because that’s what facilitates services such as Netflix and other streaming video services. Upload speeds are how fast a person can upload items to the cloud, and are most important for small and home-based businesses.

“Everyone has been focused on how-do-I-get-Netflix mode and not the kind of broadband definition needed to spur economic development and this standard really gets us there,” Schneider said.

That focus on just download speed helps foster an “intellectual trade deficit for rural communities,” Schneider said. “The idea being if you build networks that only download and can’t produce content and load it back up, that means you’re building into your infrastructure a plan to only receive content and never produce it, which is not a good business plan, and more fundamentally maybe makes it more difficult to be a contributor to the modern Internet.”

Maine has ranked close to the bottom on lists of broadband speeds by state, including a report based on Ookla NetMetrics data that said Maine ranks 49th out of the 50 states and a recent report from Akamai Technologies that puts Maine at 48th among U.S. states and far behind countries such as Estonia and Macao.

“This was a real kick in the teeth to us in the industry or anybody who feels they have responsibility for broadband in Maine,” Fletcher Kittredge told the ConnectME Authority board on Friday. “One of the problems we identified is the state has a low definition of broadband and patting itself on the back while the rest of the nation has moved on.”


LePage has thrown his support behind raising the broadband standard. In a letter sent Dec. 30, 2014, to Jean Wilson, chairwoman of the ConnectME Authority board and a senior vice president at L.L. Bean, the Republican governor urged the authority “to accelerate efforts to deploy high-speed broadband service in Maine.”

“High-speed Internet is critical to moving Maine forward. It has become increasingly evident that many industries simply cannot prosper in our state without this service,” LePage wrote. “At a time when businesses and customers are looking to utilize video and other streaming services, limited or very basic Internet service can be a barrier to attracting business to our state or moving our existing employers into a digital economy.”

He noted that the federal government recently adopted a standard that requires Internet service providers receiving federal subsidies to provide download speeds of at least 10 Mbps.

In a statement Friday, LePage thanked the authority’s board for adopting a higher standard. He also praised Schneider and his office for advocating on the issue.

“Broadband access is vital to doing business in today’s world,” the governor said. “These sorts of investments open the gate to making Maine more competitive in attracting new businesses, expanding current businesses and creating new jobs.”