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The first indication of a problem was the spinning wheel of death when I tried to attach a document to a work email on Monday afternoon.
Then came the yells from upstairs: “Dad, what’s wrong with the internet?”
My wife and I, yelling from our makeshift home workspaces: “Are you able to connect? Is it just me?”
Then it was 30 minutes of home remedies. Hit the reset button on the router (or is it the modem?). Unplug everything. Count to 10. Plug it all back in. Wait for the lights. Push that bent-straight paperclip into the bent-straight paperclip spot on the back of the modem (or is it the router?). Wait. Again.
Ask Alexa: She’s “having trouble connecting.”
Is it me? Is it everyone? (How many of you tried the same fixes?)
Grab the cellphone and then check social media. The signal was spotty and loading was stalled, but I was able to see on Facebook that the internet outage wasn’t just me.
The knowledge was actually a relief.
The Spectrum internet outage on Monday hit most of Maine and lasted about two hours. If the problem had been mine then that would have meant the solution was up to me as well — and I had exhausted the length of my fix-the-internet know-how. Knowing there was a big problem meant someone else would have to fix it. Sigh of relief.
The disruption was little more than a minor inconvenience.
But it was also a major reminder of the integral role that access to high-speed internet plays in our daily lives.
My kids use it for school. My wife and I are lucky enough to be able to work from home because we’re able to Zoom into meetings. Did I really say “lucky?” I know we’re lucky, it’s just being on Zoom six or seven hours of the day doesn’t always feel that way.
We pay our bills online, monitor our accounts, check the news, you name it.
For the past year, the internet has become as essential as the water, sewer pipes and gas lines, the electrical grid and the roads we drive on. We don’t go many places in real life, but we sure travel through the digital world with abandon.
And while it always feels good to disconnect, being disconnected involuntarily is a much different question.
President Joe Biden has proposed a major investment in broadband as part of his infrastructure package that also includes roads, bridges, water system upgrades and a lot more.
Broadband is absolutely essential, and at least in Maine, treating internet service as infrastructure is also popular and bipartisan.
Last summer, Maine voters overwhelmingly voted to approve a state bond to fund broadband expansion. More than 74 percent of voters said “yes.”
When Gov. Janet Mills convened a task force of thought leaders in the state to chart a long-term recovery plan for the state in the aftermath of COVID-19, ensuring that everyone in Maine has access to high-quality, affordable broadband was identified as a priority.
And when the president and Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, they made sure to include money for broadband. According to Sen. Angus King, Maine should receive $120 million of support.
These are important investments. Critical. But more is required.
The State of Maine Broadband Action Plan says that it would take an investment of at least $600 million over the next five years for the state to reach the goal of 95 percent of all potential internet subscribers statewide having access to at least one broadband provider.
The two dark hours on Monday — “Alexa, turn on the living room lights.” “I’m sorry, I’m having trouble connecting.” — were just a blip. The email got sent, the Red Sox game came on. The city council meeting was rescheduled.
But it’s a good reminder, if we needed one more, of just how essential good access to the internet really is. Just as roads, bridges, airports, railways and ports are critical infrastructure, so is broadband.