Maine is facing an unprecedented economic and public health crisis.

COVID-19 and the economic stall that it has created have upended tens of thousands of lives in Maine and countless millions around the world. People have become seriously ill, and sadly a still-growing number of people are dying.

But we are not helpless – to help keep our communities safe and to help our economy to reopen.

One of the things that Maine people can do now to help our economy – including small businesses in rural parts of the state – is to vote “yes” on Question 1 on July 14.

Question 1 will provide a smart investment of $15 million to expand access to high-speed internet in Maine. The $15 million investment will be matched by another $30 million in federal and local funding for a total investment of $45 million.

If we’ve learned anything from the global pandemic, it’s how important high-speed internet connections are to students, families and businesses.

Students around the state were forced to use remote learning, and workers who could began working from home in large numbers. Video calls replaced classes, meetings and sometimes socializing, and streaming video replaced other types of recreation.

The Maine Department of Education went to extraordinary efforts to ensure that students could connect to their teachers, classes and classmates. And businesses have done the best they can to adapt and to overcome the challenges of keeping customers while keeping them 6 feet away.

At Tilson, the Portland company where I serve as CEO, many of our employees in Maine now work from home and grapple with inadequate broadband.

Our mission is to build information infrastructure. The irony is not lost on me that the company I run, which designs and builds the internet, can’t find sufficient internet to support its workers. Our job is to help keep people connected and to empower them to innovate and deliver for their customers. We plan to hire hundreds of people every year to do this work.

Today, most of that work is in other states where internet access is better funded. While we like bring home that business to Maine, we want our home state to keep pace. It’s possible that someone could hire us to do some of the work contemplated by the bond issue, and if they did, we would be proud to do our best work in our home communities and create more jobs in our home state.

Access to high-speed internet throughout Maine is foundational to Tilson’s continued growth in Maine.

But one barrier is already clear.

Maine must invest in better internet and help to increase access to all Mainers across the state. To not have internet today means little access to work, educational and health care opportunities.

Question 1 on the July 14 ballot gets us started.

Voting “yes” on Question 1 puts millions of dollars to work creating jobs, supporting students, keeping families connected and helping business to rebound, grow and be successful.

During my time serving as an Army signal officer in Afghanistan, it was my job to help build a modern communications network to keep deployed soldiers connected. Being able to dependably communicate was mission critical for soldiers, and I saw firsthand what people separated by tremendous distance could do while connected online. In fact, even in 2005, telehealth was a major driver of broadband use there.

Now we know it’s also mission critical for Maine’s economy.

The world faces tremendous uncertainty as we come to grips with the fallout from an international public health emergency. Business, schools and families have had to adapt and will likely have to adapt even more.

We need to make sure that they have the tools that make it possible.

For me, that starts with a commitment to build better access to high-speed internet in communities around Maine.

There is no single solution to the challenges we face, no magic bullets. But if we vote “yes” on Question 1, we will be making a smart choice that will help get our economy moving and keep our people connected – whether they’re working from home, growing the customer base for their small business or taking classes.

A “yes” vote on Question 1 is the right call for Maine and the right call for the future.

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