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Maine Senate approves head of new broadband agency

A Portland resident has been sworn in as the first president of a new state agency that will oversee the expansion of broadband internet access across the state.

Gov. Janet Mills administered the oath to Andrew Butcher on Wednesday after the state Senate unanimously endorsed his nomination to lead the Maine Connectivity Authority. Created by the Legislature last year, the authority is charged with helping to expand and improve high speed internet service in Maine amid an unprecedented infusion of $150 million from COVID relief and infrastructure bills passed by Congress.

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 has served as director of the Maine Broadband Coalition, which advocates for affordable access to high-speed internet throughout the state. He was also a director in innovation and resilience at the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

The Maine Connectivity Authority will have the ability to own the poles, wires and other physical infrastructure needed to carry high-speed internet but can also provide grants or loans to other organizations working on broadband projects. In addition to Butcher and his staff, the authority will be overseen by a seven-member board whose members have already been confirmed by the Maine Senate and sworn in by Mills.

During a committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Butcher told lawmakers that fiber networks were still the gold standard for internet service. But he added that the new agency would consider other options for expanding broadband.

"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," Butcher told members of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.