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Updated: January 19, 2022

Maine's new broadband leader says better internet access will be economic growth tool

Andrew Butcher, newly named president of the newly created Maine Connectivity Authority, sees broadband access as an economic development tool to help the future of the state and the livelihoods of its residents.

Courtesy / Maine Connectivity Authority
Andrew Butcher is president of the Maine Connectivity Authority, charged with bringing high-speed internet access to all of Maine.

“Our highest goal has to be that everyone can be connected and has access to an affordable connection,” Butcher told Mainebiz in a recent interview. “We have to make sure people are no longer in the dark.” 

Established in 2021, the Maine Connectivity Authority is a quasi-governmental agency with a big mandate: creating universal high-speed internet access in a sprawling state with remote islands, rural enclaves and sparse population centers. 

Maine ranks No. 45 in the country for internet access, according to U.S. News and World Report. Nevada is No. 1 and New Mexico ranks last.

“Maine has this track record of hard work, so I know we can get to the top very quickly,” Butcher said. 

The first order of business is crafting a strategic plan and gathering feedback on what is needed. The Maine Connectivity Authority also is in search of a chief financial officer, as well as about 10 new staffers in the next year, Butcher said.

The authority will focus on where future workforces will be located in Maine, and be mindful of remote areas, as well as areas that may have internet access but still need better, faster and more reliable service, Butcher said. 

The pandemic highlighted the need for internet access, with jobs, education and telehealth services relying on it across the state. 

“We need equity and future-oriented development,” he said.

Butcher has been tackling Maine’s internet issues for years. He previously served as the director of the Maine Broadband Coalition, a diverse network working to improve broadband service throughout the state. He was also director of innovation and resilience for the Greater Portland Council of Governments. In 2020, Butcher helped lead efforts to pass a bond proposal to spend $15 million on expanding broadband access in Maine.

Previously, Maine’s internet efforts were conducted through Connect Maine Authority, which Butcher said had a “high level of obligation and a low level of funding.”

With the new Maine Connectivity Authority, “we now have the ability to think through the lines and work across silos and talk with education, health care, transportation industries to come up with solutions, share resources and get more things done.”

With $20 million from the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, $130 million through the federal American Rescue Plan funds, and $100 million from the infrastructure act, Maine has $250 million to focus on internet issues.

“This is absolutely 10 times, 20 times what the state has had at its disposal to invest in broadband. Which is great. But the estimate two years ago of the cost to address connectivity needs were about $600 million, and that was before labor and cost of materials increased,” Butcher said. 

“This is an opportunity that in the history of Maine has never been possible. We’ve never had the resources and technology in place. The reason I’m so compelled and excited is that this is about forging the future of the state’s infrastructure. How do we define the future of the state?”

He added, “It’s an opportunity to be intentional and aware about how we are making the state better. People who are moving to Maine in the future will have expectations and the people in Maine now have needs. And we want to serve industries of the future. We see this as an opportunity to connect Maine and an economic development tool.”

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