A business advertises WIFI access in downtown Bangor in this July 2018 file photo. City officials declared broadband an essential infrastructure, just like water, sewer and electricity. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

ConnectMaine Authority opened applications Thursday for about half of the $15 million bond money approved by voters last July to fund high-speed broadband infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved communities in the state.

The authority, which oversees the bond money, will hold two rounds of applications, the second early in the summer after town meetings, Stephenie MacLagan, assistant director of ConnectMaine, said during the authority’s board meeting Thursday.

Applications for internet provider expansion projects are due by April 12 and those for community-driven infrastructure projects are due by April 29. Close to 75 percent of voters approved the $15 million bond proposal during last July’s election.

While the Legislature stalled in the past on investments like a $15 million broadband bond blocked by Republicans in 2019, lawmakers and politicians are increasingly warming to bonds as the coronavirus pandemic reveals the shortcomings of Maine’s internet infrastructure.

During her budget address Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills recommended another $30 million for broadband expansion. A separate bill for a $100 million broadband bond, sponsored by Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, is also being considered in the Legislature this year. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins also on Wednesday proposed a $15 billion plan to Congress to increase rural broadband funding nationwide.