Maine - Spurred to action by inadequate high-speed Internet service as the pandemic besieged their communities, local officials and citizen volunteers in five rural Maine towns formed the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition (SWCBC) in an effort to bring ubiquitous and affordable broadband to its portion of Waldo County. Two years later, the SWCBC is close to securing a major victory for local Internet choice in the face of a well-funded opposition campaign sweeping the Pine Tree State as the Big Telecom lobby and its allies try to undermine the very idea of publicly-owned, locally-controlled broadband networks in Maine and elsewhere. The five SWCBC towns clustered about 30 miles east of Augusta – home to approximately 5,600 Mainers – are looking to create what is known as a Broadband Utility District (BUD).
Post-pandemic, there is near universal agreement that fast reliable internet is as essential as electricity or water, but the debate over who should provide it and how is still heated. Big telecom companies have long fought to keep government out of their business: Barriers to municipal broadband are in place in 18 states, making it hard for localities to establish their own networks, thanks to industry lobbying. Even in California — where legislators lifted a restriction on public broadband in rural areas in 2018 — publicly owned networks are still rare. Now, however, $65 billion in broadband funding included in last year’s federal infrastructure bill has changed the dynamic, fueling a nationwide rush by state and local governments to connect residents to the internet.