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Maine Broadband Group Seeks Public Input on 3-Year Plan

AUGUSTA, Maine - The ConnectMe Authority, the group charged with improving access in Maine to broadband services, is holding a series of public hearings this month on what it should include in its new three-year plan.

"We really want to hear how people are affected by not having access to broadband - you know, their ability, perhaps, to communicate with family and friends, not being able to work from home," says ConnectMe Authority Chair Jean Wilson.

Wilson, an executive at LL Bean, says the authority faces the daunting task of trying to coordinate state and federal programs aimed at improving access to the Internet.

She says while lawmakers have justifiably increased the standard of what constitutes a broadband connection, they have not increased state funding to help reach that higher standard.

"We really are underfunded and we do need more state funding," Wilson says. "You know, so much progress really has happened in this past legislative session with respect to acknowledging broadband's importance, but what didn't come is any increase in funding."

The ConnectMe Authority is funded by a .25 percent surcharge on in-state telecommunications bills. It generates a few million dollars a year for grants.

Public hearings to gather comment on developing the draft plan will be held at the following times and locations:

Wed., Sept.16, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in Abromson Hall at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

Mon., Sept. 21, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.at the Wells Conference Center at the University of Maine at Orono.

Wed., Sept. 23, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Campus Center of the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

Wed., Sept. 30, from 5:00 p.m.to 7:00 p.m. in the Jewett Hall Auditorium of the University of Maine at Augusta.

A draft of the three-year plan is expected to be released in November, followed by a public hearing scheduled for Dec. 4. The board is expected to vote on a final three-year strategic plan in February.