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June 19, 2023

$30M broadband grant will help connect ‘middle mile’ customers

silhouette of maine with colors and lines Courtesy / Maine Connectivity Authority The blue lines depict the planned broadband expansion.

A new $30 million federal grant aims to provide internet connectivity to underserved homes and businesses in rural Maine.

The Maine Connectivity Authority received the competitive grant from the National Telecommunications Information Administration's Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program. 

The money is expected to fund 530 miles of “middle mile” infrastructure, which are regional fiber optic lines that are able to carry large amounts of data at high speeds over long distances.

The 530-mile route crosses 131 communities, passing more than 11,000 unserved houses and local businesses. It will reach more than 200 community anchor institutions, including schools, hospitals, libraries, local government buildings and civic centers.

“This grant will fund the construction of critical broadband infrastructure that will bring Maine closer to ensuring that anyone in Maine who wants a fast, affordable, reliable internet connection can have one,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a news release.

The authority’s $53 million project is called the Maine Online Optical Statewide Enabling Network, or MOOSE Net.

Maine’s proposal was one of 32 selected from a pool of more than 260 applications for the $1 billion program. 

MOOSE Net’s expansion will deploy open-access fiber “highways” that provide an essential backbone to enable last-mile providers to increase their coverage, reduce costs, help fortify digital infrastructure to prevent outages and advance the competitiveness of rural communities. 

Maine's low population density and rural geography make it difficult to attract the same private middle-mile investment that other states have seen over the past two decades. MOOSE Net will facilitate affordable broadband access to thousands of households along the route.

 “MOOSE Net is a key part of providing the connectivity infrastructure that will enable critical last mile internet service and help connect Maine’s diverse industries,” said Andrew Butcher, president of the Maine Connectivity Authority. 

silhouette of maine with colors and lines
Courtesy / Maine Connectivity Authority
The blue lines depict the planned broadband expansion.

The University of Maine System and Networkmaine are key partners on the proposal, which was also developed in collaboration with the Maine Department of Transportation, Consolidated Communications, the Maine State Library Network, Tilson Technology, dozens of other regional entities, leading statewide internet service providers and telecommunication companies. The partners will provide a mix of cash and in-kind support, including access to telecommunications infrastructure, staff and equipment to position MOOSE Net for rapid deployment. 

 Maine Connectivity Authority is a quasi-governmental agency created in 2021 to expand access to fast, reliable and affordable internet and break down the barriers that keep Mainers from taking full advantage of those connections.  As of June 2023, the agency has facilitated over $100 million in investments to enable over 53,000 connections and has developed a five-year plan to expand broadband infrastructure and increase digital equity across Maine.

Maine's internet infrastructure is a patchwork of individual private networks. The middle mile infrastructure supporting these networks was not created to support the goal of universal broadband access throughout the state. MOOSE Net is a new strategic initiative created by the Maine Connectivity Authority to address those challenges. 

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