Testimony in Favor of LD 826, “An Act To Promote Maine’s Economic Development and Critical Communications for Rural Family Farms, Businesses and Residences by Strategic Public Investments in High-speed Internet”

Testimony of Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine
in support of LD 826
“An Act To Promote Maine's Economic Development and Critical
Communications for Rural Family Farms, Businesses and
Residences by Strategic Public Investments in High-speed Internet”
April 2, 2015

Senator Woodsome, Representative Dion and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy,
Utilities and Technology, my name is Nancy Smith, I live in Monmouth and I am the Executive
Director of GrowSmart Maine. We are a statewide non-partisan non-profit organization working to
improve Maine's economy, protect its distinctive character and communities, and enhance our
state's quality places. We support this bill because we believe strategic investments in broadband
will make headway in achieving these objectives.

Rural Maine; how many different ways do we define it? This bill focuses on rural areas as the 6%
of the state unserved by high-speed internet. I spoke last week in support of LD 163, which defined
rural areas as towns with a population below 1500 people. Though the data shows that the
economic drivers in Maine are, for the most part, located in the more populated areas of
Cumberland and York Counties and the Midcoast region, most of what we all recognize as Maine is
in the rural areas; Aroostook County potato fields, Downeast lobster boats and the western Maine
forests. These areas are not postcards. Though they are beautiful, these places are where Maine’s
farmers, fishermen and forestry professionals live and work.

Today, with more people first choosing where they live and then seeking work that suits that
location, rural Maine has potential for additional forms of economic activity. This isn’t an either/or
proposition. We need to look to our natural resource base and to the quality of place that draws
people to live here. Economic strength is possible in both strategies, and frankly they build off one
another. I’ve engaged in both economies. I worked in the forestry industry for close to twenty years
and was part of a central Maine family livestock farm for more than fifteen years. After serving in
the Legislature for eight years, I now choose to live in Monmouth while working out of a Portland
office a few days a week. My working life in Maine predates the internet – I remember when we
got our first office computer at the forestry field office in Lincoln, and I have to say I don’t miss
dial up access. A call to increase the rate of strategic broadband investment and leverage additional
federal funding, as proposed in this bill, is a significant step that GrowSmart Maine fully endorses.

The one caution I would raise is in the language that would prioritize expansion of high-speed
Internet into unserved rural areas a key emphasis of ConnectME efforts. Public investments in
infrastructure, be it roads, water and sewer, or broadband, must balance costs of investments with
likely returns. There must be creative and strategic methods to connect farmers, fishermen and
other natural resource businesses as well as those who simply choose to live remotely, without the
costs of last-mile infrastructure down every last mile in Maine. I encourage this committee to seek
that balance.