Maine officials are planning to apply for federal economic stimulus money to pay for a study of the state's high-speed Internet network that they say will help give more people access.
The ConnectMe Authority, a state agency charged with expanding high-speed services across Maine, is seeking bids from contractors who can provide a detailed map showing where broadband Internet is available.
The authority currently uses a map created in 2007 that shows which communities are connected. It's seeking a more detailed map showing street-level or even house-level information that could be updated electronically, said Phil Lindley, the authority's executive director.
"It's hugely important," Lindley said. "Once we have the new map we'll be able to better identify who isn't being served."
Under the stimulus program, federal money would pay for 80 percent of the project, with the state paying for the rest. Lindley said he won't know the total cost until after contractors submit their bids.
Legislators in 2006 approved the creation of the ConnectME Authority as part of Gov. John Baldacci's initiative to increase high-speed Internet and wireless phone service across Maine.
Its job includes identifying areas of the state that don't have access to high-speed Internet, developing ways to bring it to those areas and providing funding and tax breaks to make it happen.
Since its creation, the authority says it has helped bring high-speed Internet access to 23,000 households in about 100 Maine communities. It has awarded $2.2 million in grants and is funded through a 0.25 percent surcharge on in-state telephone, Internet, and satellite and TV services.
Nearly 90 percent of Maine households have access to high-speed Internet through DSL, cable modem or wireless technology. But large swaths and small pockets of rural areas still don't have access.
Expanding broadband and wireless telephone coverage in Maine has long been one of Baldacci's priorities. Improving high-speed Internet capabilities is vital to growing the state's economy, he said.
"These investments provide people in rural areas enhanced access to technology, transforming our state economy and expanding business opportunities for more Mainers," Baldacci said.
Lindley said he hopes the project can be finished by the fall.
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