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Maine’s Bane: Internet Access

As college students, we all have a substantial investment in the internet. From everything from finishing that paper exactly two minutes before the submission tab closes on Lyceum to blasting Lizzo on Spotify at 1:00am on Saturday nights. The internet has made our large and diverse world so much smaller, with friends being able to talk to one another from across the world and sharing almost everything from Buzzfeed quizzes about what type of fruit you are to pictures of dogs (or cats if you prefer), to millions of people online.

Today however, millions of people across the world and even here in Maine do not have access to the internet. This will serve as another barrier for farmers, fishermen, and recent immigrants to Maine to overcome. This cannot and should not be the case. In order for internet access to be expanded to all Mainers net neutrality must be restored immediately.

As my own knowledge of internet jargon is comparable to that of a Neanderthal, the Oxford English Dictionary defines net neutrality as “the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.”

Essentially, internet service companies must upload your grandma’s secret cookie recipe to Facebook at the same rate as you pull up your Amazon cart to order Lord-knows-what. To the detriment of both Democrats and Republicans, net neutrality was repealed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in December of 2017. The repeal went into effect in 2018, but was struck down by a federal court that upheld the repeal. However, it designated states to handle their own internet infrastructure independent of the federal court and made it an option.

Governor Janet Mills (D-Maine) signed into law LD 1364 in June 2019 to uphold net neutrality in the state of Maine, defying President Trump’s former Verizon lawyer turned Chair of the FCC, Ajit Pai. Net Neutrality has been preserved in Maine and in many of other states, allowing internet users to continue scrolling through the web without having to worry about companies or government entities restricting access to information or download speeds. However, a new threat to Net Neutrality is making its way into the Republican controlled Senate in the form of the misleadingly named Save the Internet Act.

The Save the Internet act is a heavily flawed and misleading piece of legislation. The bill would bring the internet under the direct jurisdiction of the federal government, allowing greater regulatory and direct control of internet broadband speeds by the federal government. To most people, this doesn’t seem that bad of an idea. But for Maine and other rural and similarly off the grid places across America this bill does more harm than good.

For starters, do Mainers and the rest of the U.S. want their Internet speed to be in the hands of the President and their advisors? I highly doubt that anyone would want President Trump or anyone like him to take an interest in their download speeds. That is the primary reason trusting the federal government with that much power over Internet regulation is shortsighted.

Of course someone much more responsible will assume office in the future, but that is hardly a guarantee that someone like Trump won’t take office again. On top of the threat of executive overreach, the Save The Internet Act simply does nothing good for Mainers. According to the Portland Press Herald and Mainebiz Magazine, the average download speed in Maine is 62% slower than the national average and Maine ranks fifth in the nation for slowest internet speeds.

I assume everyone knows the latter fact every time they walk outside of an academic building at Bates and lose their Wifi. Rural Mainers broadband access is as much as 70x lower than the minimal recommendations put forth by the FCC. Low-income Mainers are especially at risk, with new immigrants and rural farmers being four times more likely to have no access to broadband at all, according to the Ellsworth American.

Fortunately for Maine, Governor Mills has been quick to act to assist Mainers that are off the grid. She recently secured an agreement between the state of Maine and Spectrum to bring broadband access to over 650,000 homes throughout Maine according to Maine Public Radio.

Most importantly in my opinion, expanded broadband access has allowed elderly Mainers to continue to live in their own homes because of the easy access of “telehealth” services provided by hospitals. This service allows many Mainers who lack a vehicle to get to a hospital, have a disability, or who may be unable to get a family member to take them to the hospital to be able to have a doctor’s appointment right in their own home.

Elderly Mainers will be able to stay in their homes longer, immigrants who do not possess a vehicle have access to doctors, and lower income Mainers will always be connected to the services that they need. The “telehealth” industry is one of the many ways in which greater internet connectivity can benefit Maine. Unfortunately, due to the Save the Internet Act, investment in new internet infrastructure in Maine has declined more than 5.6% in the last year because of the fear of the Save the Internet Act overruling Governor Mill’s policies.

The Save the Internet Act is well intentioned, but not the right fit for Maine, California, or Texas, who have all passed similar net neutrality legislation. Seeing actual bipartisan support for net neutrality is rare these days, but net neutrality is worth preserving. I would encourage Bates students to call Senator Collins and their home state Senators to press them to vote against the Save the Internet Act.

Roy Mathews
Assistant Forum Editor

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