Group tasked with bringing high-speed internet access to Maine sworn in

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Jul. 20—AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers have decided on leadership for a new broadband agency equipped with $150 million and tasked with a mandate to achieve universal high-speed internet in Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills swore in seven members of the board of directors for the recently established Maine Connectivity Authority after the Maine Senate unanimously confirmed their nominations on Monday. The members are Carlos Javier Barrionuevo of Georgetown, Daniel Belyea of Vassalboro, John Chandler and Timothy Schneider of Falmouth, Danielle Louder of Augusta, Michael Reed of Palermo and Robert Souza of Durham.

"Now, with the Connectivity Authority and unprecedented federal funding, we have a once-in-a-generation chance to build the connections Maine people need to succeed," Mills said.

The quasi-governmental organization, created under legislation sponsored by Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, along with Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, has broad authority to sign contracts with private companies, offer grants and loans and build broadband infrastructure directly. It is set to work with $150 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan and will subsume the state's current broadband agency, ConnectMaine.

That is an unprecedented increase in funding, as ConnectMaine has typically funded projects of less than $1 million per year over the past decade. But it still accounts for only a fraction of the $600 million that state analysts said could be necessary to achieve high-speed internet access in Maine's rural communities. About 83,000 residences are considered underserved.

Schneider, one of the seven appointees to the board, served a four-year term as Maine's public advocate for utility customers during former Gov. Paul LePage's time in office.

LePage, however, later said appointing Schneider was one of the "worst decisions in my life" after Schneider worked on a solar energy policy compromise between utilities, solar installers, environmental groups and others that sparked LePage's ire.

LePage opted against appointing Schneider to a second term.