QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The internet that we have is so painfully slow,” said Jordan Barnett-Parker, a goldsmith who narrowly won a selectman seat in Lincolnville. “I feel that the internet should be a utility … we want everybody to have the same opportunities to support themselves and their families.”
What we’re watching today
Access to broadband internet was top of mind for the Maine House of Representatives leadership during a Thursday morning conversation. House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, and House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, came together virtually for a Portland Chamber of Commerce breakfast chat about legislative priorities. Both agreed expanding high-speed internet was one of the most important investments the Legislature could make next session.
The issue was a recurring theme last session and became particularly important once the coronavirus pandemic began, when the virus forced both businesses and municipal and state governance to go remote for the first time. An economic revitalization committee convened by Gov. Janet Mills made it one of their key recommendations to help the Maine economy recover.
Its importance to the Legislature’s ability to govern became apparent early in the month when it met in the Augusta Civic Center for the first time. A good portion of those costs was installing the infrastructure to broadcast the first day and to allow lawmakers to conduct their business in a more spread-out fashion.
Cost and community buy-in have historically been some of the challenges to expanding broadband, including in the Legislature, something both leaders acknowledged Thursday. In 2019, Republicans blocked consideration of three bonds, including one for broadband, saying it was irresponsible to borrow for all but essentials amid budget uncertainty.
Local municipalities are starting to take a hard look at the issue. Of particular interest is a method Bar Harbor is considering — creating its own network, something the small towns of Baileyville and Calais have already done.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Nirav Shah: Maine is ‘squarely seeing the effects’ of COVID-19 spread over Thanksgiving,” Charles Eichacker, Bangor Daily News: “‘As we’ve all seen with COVID, where you start dictates where you end up,’ Shah said. ‘If you go into a season where more people are expected to be gathering in close quarters for long periods of time, if you go into those holidays with higher rates of disease, the likelihood that any one of those gatherings could be attended by somebody who has COVID itself goes up.’”
Shah also said the governor has not decided where prisoners fall on the state’s vaccine distribution schedule. The massive U.S. coronavirus vaccine effort began in earnest this week with the first Maine health care workers getting inoculated on Tuesday. The first phase of the rollout will come in those health facilities, skilled nursing facilities and long-term care facilities. That effort is expected to take several weeks or up to months, the Maine Center for Disease Control Director told a legislative panel on minority populations Wednesday. During questioning, he said it had not been decided where prisoners fall on that schedule with Gov. Janet Mills having the final say.
— “White House task force urges increased restrictions in Maine and US as virus surges,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The latest report underscores the severity of the virus situation in Maine and the U.S. entering winter, but sidesteps some of the tricky politics, including outgoing President Donald Trump’s skepticism of coronavirus-related restrictions and the lack of stimulus that Gov. Janet Mills and other governors have cited as a barrier to reinstituting restrictions from earlier in the pandemic.”
Congress is close to a stimulus deal based on a proposal backed by Maine’s senators. Congressional leaders are signaling that an agreement is near on a $900 billion stimulus package. It looks a lot like a package proposed by a bipartisan group of senators including Susan Collins and Angus King of Maine, including an additional $300 a week for unemployed Americans, one $600 check for most people, a new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans and money for vaccine distribution. It leaves out two thornier matters — the Democratic priority of state and local aid and the Republican priority of a liability shield for businesses.
— “Judge denies motion to stop CMP corridor construction,” Eesha Pendharkar, BDN: “[U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker] said the plaintiffs had not presented a strong enough argument against the Army Corps’ review or presented a contrary assessment by a regulatory agency such as the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.
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