Residents and businesses in Maine have for years been clamoring for internet speeds fast enough to support their everyday activities. That hasn’t changed.

But as more and more of our commerce and daily lives are conducted through online portals, the definition of high-speed internet has. What was more than fast enough a few years ago is now much too slow.

So it stands to figure that the speeds sufficient now will be obsolete not too far in the future — something that must be considered as Maine prepares for a rare opportunity to build out its internet infrastructure for the next couple of decades.

That’s why the ConnectMaine Authority, the group tasked with bringing proper internet to every corner of the state, is right to raise the standards for publicly funded projects.

ConnectME voted last month to increase to 100 megabits per second for uploads and downloads the standard for projects that receive state money. The authority has also proposed raising the standard for an area to be considered “unserved” by high-speed internet to 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload.

A public hearing will be held Thursday, with a confirmation vote happening sometime later this month.

Raising the standards is the right thing to do. It assures that new projects built with taxpayer funds will make a real difference in connecting Mainers. It reflects not only the reality of what people need the internet to do, but also what is being built already by internet service providers. Publicly funded projects must keep up with those — and have room to scale up as the future demands higher speeds — to protect against inequities based on where one lives.

That has been a problem before. Maine’s standard for “unserved” areas was just 1.5 Mbps download — with no upload standard — as recently as 2015, when it was raised to the current standard: 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

The low standards (along with a lack of grant funds) precluded many Maine communities for applying for grants to build high-speed networks, and made Maine’s internet access look far rosier than it actually was.

It was clear by 2015 that those standards were far too low for a culture where streaming video was becoming so central, as well as for a business environment that required speedy uploads.

Now, six years later, it is clear again that the standards are inadequate for our world now, where multiple devices per household are connected to the internet, and so much — work, school, doctor’s appointments — is moving online.

The need for faster and faster speeds is apparent. Customers are demanding them, and ISPs are listening — as ConnectME notes, telecom companies positioning themselves for the future are building lines capable of much higher speeds than are broadly needed now.

In the projects it helps fund, the state should be doing the same. Whether they are connected through a private project or a public one, whether they are rural or urban, communities should have access to speeds that allow their residents the full spectrum of internet activities. That’s necessary if communities want to create opportunities for themselves, whether it’s attracting workers and investment, or holding on to the residents and businesses already there.

Maine has the opportunity to build such a network. Voters approved a $15 million high-speed internet bond last year, and as much as $100 million could come here from President Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill — a development Sen. Angus King said would be “transformative” for the state.

Maine should take full advantage of the attention on high-speed internet. It should build the network we need to flourish — and to make sure we don’t fall behind again anytime soon.


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