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August 16, 2017

King, FCC Commissioner Host Rural Broadband Listening Tour, Underscore Importance of High-Speed Internet for Maine Communities

King announces support for Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act

UNITY, ME – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today hosted a listening tour with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association to discuss the importance of rural broadband for rural education, health care, and for growing Maine’s rural economy. During the tour, Senator King  announced his support for the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act, legislation that would expand the resources available for building broadband infrastructure by expanding an existing loan program to include grant funding to help support projects in rural and tribal areas.

“Reliable rural broadband access is essential to strengthen and diversify Maine’s economy,” Senator King said. “As we have seen today, rural broadband can help entrepreneurs grow their business, enable farmers to practice precision agriculture and access new markets, and help students learn in an expanding digital world. By building these bridges between Maine’s rural communities and a 21st century economy, we can help Maine businesses and people grow and thrive. I am thrilled Commissioner Rosenworcel was able to visit Maine and hear directly from local people about the significance of this issue for our communities and for our state.”

In the morning, Senator King provided keynote remarks at the Kennebec Valley Chamber Breakfast Series. Following the Chamber event, Senator King and Commissioner Rosenworcel toured the Waterville Library Business, Career, and Creativity Center to hear about its digital literacy and career development efforts and the Center’s entrepreneurial support; toured Buckle Farm in Unity to discuss how rural broadband is critical to Maine’s agriculture industry and expands access to markets; and participated in a digital literacy class for business owners with Axiom Technologies.

Senator King rounded out the day hosting a listening session at Unity College called, “Improving Broadband Infrastructure and Closing the Digital Divide.” Senator King co-hosted the listening session with Commissioner Rosenworcel, Shirley Bloomfield, and Laurie Osgood, CEO of UniTel, a high-speed internet and phone service provider for central Maine.

“A broadband connection is more than a technology – it’s a platform for opportunity.  No matter who you are or where you live, you need access to modern communications to have a fair shot at 21st century success” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said. “I’d like to thank Senator King for his leadership in helping to prioritize the importance of bringing broadband to rural Maine.  I'm excited to see the state's accomplishments first-hand and the impact that connectivity brings to its libraries, businesses and communities."

“Rural broadband powers innovation and keeps our rural communities globally connected," said Shirley Bloomfield, chief executive officer, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. “It's an honor to spend this time with Senator King and Commissioner Rosenworcel in Maine as we shine a light on the collaborative efforts of UniTel to bring high-speed broadband to the communities it serves and recognize its national achievement as a Smart Rural Community Showcase Awardee."

“Historically enjoying Maine’s quality of life has come at a price”, said Laurie Osgood, CEO of UniTel. “Now technology has changed so much that it is possible to do the work traditionally performed in the big city from the most rural parts of Maine.  Our role is to make sure that our infrastructure can support anyone who wants to live and work here. The leadership of Senator King and FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel has been vital in realizing the goals of closing the digital divide. The Smart Rural Community designation is a direct reflection of our team’s hard work. We live and work in these rural communities, so this award means a lot to us.”

Finally, Senator King announced his intention to cosponsor the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act, bipartisan legislation that would allow for federal grants of up to 50 percent of a project’s cost, and up to 75 percent for remote, high-need areas, to be awarded in combination with loan funding already available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. The legislation would also double the authorized funding for the Rural Utilities Service’s expanded Broadband Loan and Grant Program to $50 million per fiscal year. By allowing for grant-loan combination financing, this proposal would provide resources to private sector providers, state and local governments, and Indian tribes or tribal organizations to expand high-speed, affordable broadband access to rural areas in Maine and across the country.

Senator King has been a strong proponent of broadband infrastructure initiatives to support innovation and economic development in rural communities in Maine. During his time in office, Senator King has supported the modernization of federal broadband programs, including the FCC’s E-rate program, which supports school and library internet access. He has also fought for amendments in the Every Student Succeeds Act to allow rural students better access to the internet outside of the classroom. In January, Senator King led a bipartisan group of 48 Senators urging President Trump to include broadband in any proposed infrastructure initiative. In March, he reintroduced the Community Broadband Act, legislation that would preserve and protect the rights of cities and localities to invest in local broadband infrastructure by amending the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to ban any state statute or regulation that prohibits municipalities from providing high-speed internet. Increasing access to rural broadband is also an integral part of Senator King’s economic agenda to help grow Maine’s rural economy and create jobs. Senator King is also the co-founder of the Senate Broadband Caucus, a bipartisan caucus working group developing solutions and strategies to accelerate broadband deployment in order to strengthen he digital economy and to close the digital divide, especially in rural America.



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