Golden Brings Congress to Washington County to Learn from Mainers Building Rural Broadband Infrastructure
MACHIAS, ME — Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02) brought a congressional field hearing to the University of Maine at Machias yesterday to hear from the small businesses, organizations, and stakeholders working to build out broadband infrastructure in rural Maine. Golden, chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting & Infrastructure, was joined by Subcommittee Ranking Member Congressman Pete Stauber (MN-08) for the bipartisan hearing, which sought to identify policy changes that will help connect small businesses in rural Maine with broadband internet.
“We’re going to find the solutions that will help us connect more small businesses in rural Maine with high-speed broadband in places like Baileyville, Machias, and Roque Bluffs, not in Washington,” said Congressman Golden. “That’s why it’s so important that we bring Congress to Washington County, where small businesses and towns are doing the hard work — and succeeding — to build the broadband infrastructure their communities need. In today’s hearing, Congressman Stauber and I worked across the aisle with our witnesses to identify ways we can change policy in Congress to lower barriers and provide more resources for companies and organizations building the infrastructure our rural areas desperately need.”
“With quick and reliable broadband access, even the smallest towns and communities can compete with the rest of the world,” said Congressman Stauber. “I am committed to closing the digital divide between our urban and rural communities as broadband is vital to the success of every small business, school, hospital, and family. I am thankful to be working with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle on this issue. Together, we can ensure every American small business and family has access to dependable broadband.”
Golden and Stauber’s field hearing was the first congressional hearing in Washington County in decades. The members of Congress and witnesses discussed the challenges small businesses in rural Maine face without adequate broadband access, including limited opportunities to grow their businesses, attract new employees, and compete in the digital age.
During the hearing, Mark Ouellette, President and CEO of Axiom Technologies, and Timothy McAfee, CEO of Pioneer Broadband, discussed their experiences working to secure funding and build out broadband infrastructure as service providers. The two witnesses, both running small businesses themselves, offered valuable testimony about the scope and scale of of the broadband gap in rural Maine communities. Ouellete and McAfee also described challenges they face accessing federal resources and ways to improve grant programs offered through the USDA to promote the development of rural broadband in Maine.
Chris Loughlin, a board member of the Downeast Broadband Utility and Town Manager for the town of Baileyville offered his perspective as a town official and leader of a local broadband utility. Loughlin testified to his community’s decision to form their own utility and proposed steps the federal government could take to be helpful in Baileyville and Calais’ efforts to build broadband infrastructure in their town.
Lisa Hanscom, First Selectman for the Town of Roque Bluffs and co-manager of Welch Farm, shared with the committee the obstacles her community is facing to access federal grants to improve access to broadband. Hanscom offered areas in which the USDA’s ReConnect program could be improved to lower barriers for rural municipalities like Roque Bluffs. Hanscom also offered valuable insight into the struggles of small business owners, particularly farmers, to grow their business without reliable broadband access.
Congressman Golden has made expanding broadband internet in rural Maine a priority in his first year in Congress. He was named to the House Task Force on Rural Broadband earlier this year and has taken a leadership role in addressing the issue on the House Small Business Committee. Earlier this year he previously tackled the lack of reliable broadband for rural Mainers, including calling on the FCC to address the urban/rural divide in April.