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Commerce Secretary Gary Locke Announces $25.4 Million Investment to Increase Broadband Access in Maine

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, December 17, 2009

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Commerce Secretary Gary Locke Announces $25.4 Million Investment to Increase Broadband Access in Maine

Kicking off $7.2 billion Recovery Act broadband program, Vice President Biden announces an initial $183 million in awards to expand broadband access in 17 states

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke traveled to the University of Maine in Orono today to announce a $25.4 million Recovery Act grant that will bring broadband Internet service to communities across the state that lack the technology. The investment will help bridge the technological divide, boost economic development, create jobs and improve education and health care.

This project, and the private investments it will enable, has the potential to connect one-fifth of all Maine households to a high-speed, 21st century Internet backbone. The grant was awarded to Biddeford Internet Corp. (d.b.a. GWI) and included an additional $6.4 million in matching funds to build a 1,100-mile open-access fiber-optic network extending to the most rural and disadvantaged areas of the state of Maine, from the Saint John Valley in the north, to the rocky coastline of downeast Maine, to the mountainous regions of Western Maine.

Earlier today, while in Dawsonville, Georgia, Vice President Biden announced that the administration would be investing $182 million in Recovery Act funding in 18 high-speed Internet expansion projects benefiting 17 states. The grants unveiled today are just the first part of an overall $7.2 billion investment the Recovery Act makes in bringing broadband access to underserved communities–$4.7 billion through the Commerce Department and $2.5 billion funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In his remarks at the University of Maine, Locke praised the state’s bipartisan congressional delegation, including U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, whose votes for the Recovery Act made today’s broadband investments possible.

"Expanding high-speed Internet access is critical to improving America’s economic competitiveness," Locke said. "Unless we use the 21st Century tools at our disposal, America will never be as connected as it could be. And that connection is crucial for our economic future."

“This federal Recovery Act funding will help Maine people across the State access technologies that are critical to our educational aspirations, our health, and certainly our workforce development and economy,” said Governor Baldacci. “We know Maine people can successfully compete anywhere in the world, but to realize opportunities and grow jobs, we need to ensure that Mainers have access to the latest technology, including high speed broadband connections. That’s why I have made high-speed broadband development a priority of my administration. This $25 million grant will provide a significant boost to the State’s efforts.”

“One of the primary telecommunications-related goals of this Administration and Congress is to ensure that every American has affordable, high-speed broadband available to them, and that the digital divide does not continue to linger in rural, low-income, and inner city areas,” said Senator Snowe, a senior member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “To move toward achieving that goal, the economic stimulus, which I supported, included $7.2 billion for the deployment of broadband infrastructure, $4.7 billion of which is being administered through the National Telecommunications & Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program. The BTOP funding award to Three Ring Binder will benefit the state of Maine by creating an open access, high-speed fiber optic network and improving the 21st century infrastructure essential to support Maine's existing and emerging industries.”

“Maine has the lowest rate in New England for households with Internet access, and the areas of northern, western and central Maine are particularly underserved,” said Senator Collins. “Extending access to communities that are otherwise technologically isolated opens up a world of information, resources and services. This information is particularly beneficial to encouraging business expansion and job growth in rural areas.”

“This project means real economic opportunity for Maine, and it fulfills two major goals of the Recovery Act—creating jobs in the short-term and building the foundation for long-term economic growth,” said Representative Chellie Pingree.

“High-speed internet is a reality for many, but it is still out of reach for thousands of Mainers and small businesses. The funding announced today will change that and finally bridge the divide between the rural and urban parts of our state,” said Congressman Mike Michaud. “As we look to rebuild our economy in the wake of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, this investment will help businesses throughout rural Maine compete and create jobs. It will also create construction jobs that are needed to lay the high capacity cable. This work will provide economic ripple effects that will benefit communities throughout our state.”

The projects receiving funds today are the first in the $7.2 billion program being implemented under the Recovery Act to expand broadband access and adoption across the country. The awards are designed to help underserved—and often hard-hit—communities overcome the distance and technology barrier by expanding connectivity between educational institutions, enabling remote medical consultations and attracting new businesses—as well as the jobs that come with them. They are part of an over $100 billion investment in science, technology and innovation the administration is making through the Recovery Act to lay a new foundation for economic growth.