In our increasingly connected world, reliable, affordable high-speed internet is essential. Yet, in Maine, an estimated 85,000 households have no access. The coronavirus pandemic has made internet access even more critical because almost overnight, our world went virtual: COVID-19 forced Mainers to transition to new online ways of life—businesses have taken their sales online, and students have adjusted to remote learning. For some, these changes were easy and seamless, but among those 85,000 households many students lost their only internet access when the public libraries closed, small businesses struggled to maintain an online presence, and older residents lost an important way to connect with their caregivers and medical providers.
For those without high-speed internet, staying at home to stay safe can also mean little or no access to family and friends since the ability to hold virtual gatherings depends on a reliable internet connection. It is clear to see that for many Mainers who lack high-speed internet, our sudden transition to a life of social distancing has not been an easy one.
Although COVID-19 has highlighted the need for access to reliable internet, it is important to recognize that disparities related to internet access have existed in Maine for many years. The current pandemic has only heightened the effects of this long-standing problem. Particularly in rural parts of the state, access to reliable high-speed internet could help to improve economic growth, create new jobs, and help businesses be more productive.
Luckily, many Maine businesses and organizations, including AARP Maine, are working to expand internet access in the state. The Island Institute, Educate Maine, The Maine Community Foundation, and Maine Farmland Trust are just a few organizations working with AARP Maine as members of the Maine Broadband Coalition to expand Maine’s internet access. These organizations represent Maine’s diverse interests, including those of Maine students, low-income and rural areas, island and coastal Maine regions, and farm communities across the state in the push for statewide high-speed internet access.
A critical piece of this work involves encouraging Mainers to vote “Yes” on Question 1 on the ballot referendum in the Maine State Primary on July 14th. A “Yes” vote on Question 1 will support $15 million dollars to fund high-speed internet expansion to underserved and unserved areas. If Maine voters support the bond, the funding will be matched with an estimated $30 million dollars in federal, private, local, and other funds to triple the impact. Question 1 gives Mainers a chance to do something now to close opportunity gaps and strengthen our economy.
Maine is a small state dotted with close-knit communities where residents often know every neighbor by name. We are also a rural state with a far-flung population, and COVID-19 continues to remind us how important it is for all Mainers, no matter their age and no matter where they live, to be able to stay connected. Accessible, affordable high-speed internet is essential for daily life in Maine, not just during a pandemic.
For more information on high-speed internet and the July 14th Primary, please visit www.aarp.org/mainevotes.
This story is provided by AARP Maine. Visit the AARP Maine page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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