Amid the barrage of gubernatorial campaign ads on economic issues, there is a deafening silence on the most vital point of all: If Maine does not keep up with the international digital economy, it faces an economic death spiral. So here’s the script for the ad we’re waiting to hear:
“I, Paul LePage, Mike Michaud or Eliot Cutler, candidate for governor of the state of Maine, acknowledge the following facts:
“Only optical fiber connections to the Internet will give Maine the speed and adaptability to grow into a prosperous digital future.
“For the last decade, our state, via its ConnectME Authority and its broadband committees, has wasted millions of dollars to litter the landscape with outdated Internet technologies — fixed wireless, DSL and cable. The grand result is that Maine ranks 49th in the nation for the quality and availability of broadband service. Our money has been wasted through a dismal lack of technological leadership.
“Meanwhile, over the last decade, cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee; Wilson, North Carolina; Kansas City, Kansas; Provo, Utah; Longmont, Colorado; Lafayette, Louisiana, and hundreds of others have been connecting every home and business to the Internet via future-proof optical fiber. These cities are boosting their local economies, creating jobs, lowering taxes, sparking innovation, serving the needs of education and elderly care, and raising living standards.
“Therefore, I pledge to lead Maine in building a fiber Internet. By doing so we will:
— Provide access to the worldwide 21st century digital marketplace for all our businesses, including our nearly 150,000 small businesses.
— Create countless new jobs and new opportunities in the digital economy.
— Give our students access to a world-class education at school and at home.
— Provide a connection for our health care professionals to diagnose and treat patients — including our growing elderly population — through remote monitoring of medications and vital signs.
— Bring lightning-fast communication and cultural participation into every home in Maine — and at a reasonable cost.
“Furthermore, I hereby propose to fund Maine’s Internet highway by:
— Leveraging the thousands of miles of existing fiber in Maine. Time Warner, FairPoint Communications, the Three Ring Binder and others already have overlapping high-speed optical fiber networks running throughout a vast part of the state of Maine. I will work with these companies to direct public funds toward connecting this fiber network to all our homes and businesses. From now on, public Internet funds will be used only to promote the state’s vision of ‘fiber to the home and business.’
— Use Tax Increment Financing funds to build fiber connections in our unorganized areas and connect them to the Three Ring Binder and telecom fiber on their borders.
— Seek U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to help small-town community centers and others connect their neighborhoods via fiber, increasing participation in local communities and government.
— Create a grant writing task force to help municipalities bring in Maine’s share of the millions of ConnectAmerica dollars allocated by the federal government for Internet access in rural America.
— Encourage U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins to adopt this vision and ask them to help drive this fiber-only vision in Washington.
— Bring our local electric co-ops and electric utilities into this discussion. They own access to thousands of utility poles throughout our state. They can leverage these to save millions of dollars through fiber-based smart-grid technologies and, as a bonus, transmit fiber-based broadband signals as well — a brilliant strategy demonstrated in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
— Bring our local businesses and residents to the table — doctors, lawyers, teachers, business people, homeowners, trade workers and businesses large and small. A reliable, reasonably priced, future-proof, super-fast, all-fiber network will attract investment from all of us.”
That is a political ad we willingly would listen to and would like to see carried out. I freely resign rights to this script to any candidate who has the vision and leadership to adopt it.
Daniel Sullivan is an IT manager and chairman of the Washington County Fiber Initiative, a grass-roots organization trying to bring high-speed Internet and jobs to Washington County and all of Maine.