Testimony to Oppose LD 1894
Testimony in Opposition to LD 1894, “An Act To Support Municipal Broadband Infrastructure through Incentives and Competition.”
Senator Lawrence, Representative Berry, and the distinguished members of the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, my name is Nick Murray and I serve as policy analyst for Maine Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that advocates for individual liberty and economic freedom in Maine. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on LD 1894.
This bill, while well-intentioned, has great potential to lead to a massive waste of public funds, specifically because it facilitates more municipal ownership of internet infrastructure. The history of government-owned broadband networks around the country should give proponents pause before throwing millions more at this problem.
Too few safeguards exist to protect wasteful broadband spending today. This would only increase the amount of money thrown at publicly-owned entities, likely leading to duplication of service and the overbuilding of infrastructure.
This spending should be prioritized for Mainers who live in Census blocks served by 10/1 or slower, then 25/3 or slower. Infrastructure projects should provide access where there is no service or insufficient local competition first, if at all, but the last thing we should do is allow them to be run by quasi-public entities. Allowing ConnectMaine to define “unserved community anchor institutions” after the fact highlights this blatant lack of accountability.
If affordability is a part of the issue, why is all of the money focused on building infrastructure? By throwing tax dollars at miles and miles of costly fiber optic cable for minimal additional customers served, the state distorts the market in favor of subsidized service providers, driving potential private-sector competitors away. This ultimately hurts consumers and taxpayers.
So, why not use this money to provide vouchers to folks struggling to pay for sufficiently fast internet speeds? In addition to being a direct benefit to the consumer, it would be an incentive for the private companies to expand service into rural areas to better meet demand–as well as a far better use of public resources.
Consumers would have much more say in how their service is provided, since they would direct their funds. From there, gathering a more particularized view of which households are struggling with affordability, the state can be more focused on reporting that data to determine where there is need for expanded investment in infrastructure.
Vouchers are also technology-neutral, leaving room for other, possibly cheaper and better options for consumers. Instead of funding more opaque and wasteful quasi-public cooperatives which focus only on expensive per-mile fiber-optic infrastructure, give consumers the power and let them choose the best options for their needs.
There is no need to build expensive fiber infrastructure in areas already served by multiple private providers. Very little evidence exists to suggest that government-run entities will operate and maintain more efficient and more customer-friendly internet service than the private sector.
For these reasons, please deem LD 1894 “Ought Not To Pass” and empower consumers instead of the government. Thank you for your time and consideration.