Part of one of 48 nondisclosure agreements the state signed with internet providers in order to gain access to data otherwise off-limits.

To get better broadband information than the Federal Communications Commission could provide, the state asked providers in Maine for more details about the service they offer.

Companies generally agreed to let the state see more data than they had any legal obligation to provide, officials said, but only if ConnectMaine, the state agency involved, signed nondisclosure agreements that kept the data secret from the public.

Under the state’s Freedom of Access Act, the Sun Journal requested the NDAs themselves. The paper received 48 legal documents that varied somewhat, but all had the same goal: to maintain the confidentiality of any data their companies gave the state.

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For instance, a 2010 NDA between the state and Spring Nextel Corp. commits Maine “to hold in absolute and strict confidence” the information revealed.

It is not clear what information they provided, but ConnectMaine hired a consultant, the James W. Sewall Co. in Old Town, to use what it learned to create more accurate broadband maps for Maine than the FCC possesses. As a result, state maps show which roads are wired for broadband and which ones are not, something more specific than the federal maps that merely indicate if a broadband provider offers service to anybody in a given census block.

This story is part of a special, two-part report is part of a continuing series on poverty in Maine, and the strangling affect poverty has on our communities. We look at how vital broadband accessibility is for our schools, our businesses and our health. The work is being done in cooperation with the Investigative Editing Corps.

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