Since the pandemic, Dr. Dan Cassidy, a gastroenterologist, has been using telemedicine to care for many of his patients, but slow internet in some areas, coupled with spotty connections at his patients' homes, make adequate healthcare a challenge. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

A high school student in Hope, Maine, missed 16 days of classroom schooling during the pandemic because of dropped internet connections.

A Blue Hill doctor has struggled to read his patients’ charts on the internet during remote telehealth sessions.

Those are situations the state can no longer tolerate, Gov. Janet Mills told participants at a broadband conference on Friday morning. She said expanding access to high-speed internet is central to strengthening the state’s economy and transforming rural life.

“The internet is our highway to the future, yet thousands of people and businesses in Maine just cannot access or afford high-speed internet,” she said.

The state has established minimum standards for high-speed internet service that at least 78,000 locations in Maine don’t meet, Mills said. Those are 50 megabit per second download speeds and 10 megabits per second for uploads.

The state is poised to receive a flood of money to expand high-speed internet. Of the $249 million received recently or yet to be disbursed, $21 million is from American Rescue Plan funds, $10 million of which will be used this year and $11 million next year. Another $128 million will be administered by the U.S. Treasury Department under the Capital Projects Fund for broadband infrastructure development. And a minimum of $100 million will come from the recently passed INVEST in America Act.

To prepare for the inflow of money, earlier this year the state created the Maine Connectivity Authority charged with achieving universal availability of high-speed internet in Maine. The authority has three goals. One is to ensure effective and accessible connectivity throughout the state. The second is to create an affordable and reliable internet for all Mainers. The third is to ensure that all residents, businesses and institutions will be able to take advantage of speedy internet connections to advance their operations.

“Simply having fiber run by your house isn’t enough,” Mills said. “You’ve got to be able to afford to connect to the internet and you’ve got to know how to use it.”