A new federal program could help expand and speed up broadband service in Maine.
At a press conference in Brunswick Wednesday, Maine 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree announced that the USDA's ReConnect Program will distribute $600 million in grants and loans to communities in the U.S.
"We should be the poster child state for this," Pingree said. Maine ranks near the bottom in the U.S. for internet speed, and about 12 percent of the population is underserved.
Peggy Schafer, of the Maine Broadband Coalition, is encouraging municipalities, businesses, and non-profits pursuing broadband projects to apply by the April deadline.
"This is a great opportunity for communities to work with providers," she said. "But it really does take a lot of people working together quickly over the next four or five months to get this done."
Heather Johnson, the director of the state program ConnectME, says about 40,000 households in Maine likely qualify.
"What we've found a lot is it's potentially not an entire community, but sections of a community that will be eligible," Johnson said.
The ReConnect program will fund projects in rural communities that have no broadband or slow service.