Nominee to head new Maine broadband agency gets early nod from lawmakers
Gov. Janet Mills' pick to head a new broadband agency appears to be on his way to confirmation by the Maine Senate following a unanimous vote Tuesday by the Legislature's energy committee.
Andrew Butcher was nominated by the governor in October and could soon become president of the Maine Connectivity Authority, a new agency created last year by the Legislature to help the state expand and improve high speed internet service amid an unprecedented infusion of federal money.
Butcher led the Maine Broadband Coalition, a group that has pushed for better internet access. He also worked for the Greater Portland Council of Governments.
If confirmed by the Maine Senate, Butcher will lead an agency that could have at least $250 million to spend on expanding broadband to unserved and underserved areas of the state where the financial incentive for private providers is low or nonexistent.
While Republicans and Democrats agree on expanding access, they are not always aligned on how to do it, whether it's through community broadband, incentives for private providers or new satellite-based services.
Butcher said that fiber networks remain the gold standard for internet service, but the new agency would consider other options.
"So I just want to reiterate personally, and I think we as an agency, are open to all solutions and options and recognize that we need to be wise stewards of this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said.
If confirmed, Butcher will serve a four-year term and work alongside a seven-member board with different areas of expertise defined by law.
The Connectivity Authority will fold in the operations of the ConnectMaine Authority, a tiny agency that had been overseeing broadband expansion but with a fraction of the funding available now.
The new agency will have the ability to award grants, own physical infrastructure and hold equity stakes in broadband projects.