2017-06-09 / Front Page

Grohman broadband bill advances in Maine House

Staff Writer

GrohmanGrohmanAUGUSTA — A bill put forth by Rep. Martin Grohman to protect access to high-speed internet at Maine Schools has advanced through the Legislature with bipartisan support.
The bill, LD 256, “An Act To Ensure Continued Availability of High-speed Broadband Internet at Maine's Schools and Libraries,” passed the Maine House in a 115-31 vote on Monday.
Grohman, D-Biddeford, said the measure, if passed, will simplify and modernize funding of the Maine School and Library Network, or MSLN, by including wireless, mobile and cable phone usage into the MSLN’s funding mechanism.
Current funding for the MSLN is based on landline telephone use, which has been on the decline with the advent of mobile phones and smartphones. As of 2016, Grohman said there were only about 330,000 landlines left in use in Maine, and the number continues to decline.
That means funding for the MSLN — a consortium consisting of nearly 1,000 schools and libraries across the state through which participants acquire high-speed internet access — is also on the decline.
The funding mechanism, created upon the consortium's founding in 1996, is now outdated, Grohman said, because the number of landlines in operation is going down.
“At that time, telephone lines were how internet worked, and that made sense. Today, however, broadband is much more about cable and mobile, and less about landlines,” he said Thursday. 
“In Maine, there are less than half as many landlines as there were back then.”
Because of this, Grohman said, the burden of funding for vital services such as access to the internet is now falling disproportionately on older Mainers and veterans, who are more likely to use landlines.
Landline users currently pay 27 cents per line per month in support of the MSLN.
Grohman, who is serving his second term in the Maine House, said his bill provides a sustainable funding source for statewide high-speed internet programs, and he is pleased that a majority of House legislators see the value in that.
“I’m very grateful to the many stakeholders who recognized the value of the (MSLN) and came to the table to work together on creative solutions,” Grohman said, noting the support of landline and wireless telephone providers, as well as cable companies, at a public hearing for the bill.
He said Thursday he was able to get many large-scale telecommunications companies, including Fairpoint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, among others, to come to a compromise in lowering landline costs.
“I was looking for something that would reduce costs for landlines, which are much more likely to be held by veterans and seniors, and not cause problems for our growing mobile and cable industries,” he said. “As times change, and Mainers make fewer phone calls, and use more text and data, we needed to find a new, stable source of funding that responds to these changes.”
Library leaders agree on the importance of the MSLN, including Scarborough Public Library Director Nancy Crowell, who spoke in favor of the bill at its public hearing.
“For us and members of our community, the MSLN connection is more than just an information network,” Crowell said. “It’s a community connection with real, tangible value.”
Jeff Cabral, director of Biddeford’s McArthur Public Library, has also spoken to the importance of the MSLN.
“MSLN connectivity is the backbone to everything we do and ongoing sustainable funding for this is of paramount importance,” he said. “So many individuals rely on our public internet connection every day.”
LD 256 faces further votes in both the House and the Senate, but Grohman said he’s confident the rest of Augusta will respond positively. And while he hasn’t yet had the chance to speak with Gov. Paul LePage, he said he believes even the governor will approve of the measure.
“The legislation is close to becoming law and if it does it will provide stability for the foreseeable future for the Maine School and Library Network,” he said. “Now let’s get online.”
— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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