We can get there from here through the deployment of $150M from the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund and the Maine Jobs and Recovery Program. Funding through the Maine Connectivity Authority is designed to reach the last mile in the most rural places, connect communities ready to scale their infrastructure, prepare communities for investment, ensure affordable options for everyone, and invest in partnerships to build a modern broadband infrastructure for Maine.
The following FAQs will continue to evolve as MCA learns from stakeholders through an engagement process during the summer and early fall of 2022. For more information about these engagement opportunities, please visit the All-In Funding page.
Program Principles & Overview
Q: Is MCA the primary authority for broadband programming in Maine?
A: Yes, MCA is the state agency responsible for designing, deploying, and managing broadband activities and federal funds. MCA and Connect Maine agreed to an integration and alignment of services under the MCA umbrella in June 2022.
Q: Who should I speak with at MCA if I have a question?
A: Specific staff contacts are listed on each of the All-In programming webpages. A complete list of our team members and general contact information is available on the website.
Q: How will MCA help protect private investments without negatively impacting community efforts?
A: We are committed to maximizing the reach and impact of funding. We are incorporating that balance in a variety of ways.
Data collection efforts include the industry data filings of where broadband service is already available, and providers will have the opportunity to submit data on planned networks.
Contractual commitments between providers and communities help protect and ensure planned projects.
Maine’s Broadband Intelligence Platform (our data mapping system) includes local data about community planning and crowdsourced speed testing.
The Community-Driven Broadband Planning Process includes the assessment of existing networks and plans.
All-In Programming recognizes the difference between mostly served communities where line extensions could result in universal internet service and large unserved and underserved regions where extensive last-mile infrastructure is needed for universal broadband service.
We are looking to support activities to help communities and providers work together to plan solutions that leverage assets and achieve community goals.
Q: Will I have other opportunities to share feedback or engage before MCA’s programming launches?
A: Yes, we will host a series of virtual and in-person events, online surveys, and other engagement opportunities. These will be listed on this page or on the Events page of our website. To stay up to date on the latest MCA news, please follow us on social media and subscribe to our email list by completing the form at the bottom of this page.
Q: Why does MCA use Zoom Webinars instead of Zoom Meetings? (Webinars don’t allow me to see the names and faces of all other participants)
A: We take public input very seriously and are committed to providing space for meaningful information sharing and feedback. As a result, we are hosting a variety of events in several formats through the summer of 2022, leading up to the program launch this fall. Webinars represent an efficient way of conveying information and being mindful of everyone’s limited time - especially as we seek to get programs in place to make funding available.
Since June 2022, we have engaged in dozens of direct conversations with ISPs and community partnerships to help inform program designs. If you have suggestions for how we can enable a meaningful exchange of information, please contact Andrew Butcher: AButcher@maineconnectivity.org.
Q: Can we get MCA to meet with our local committee?
A: Feel free to express your interest or status of your planning committee through our Contact page. The Maine Broadband Coalition is also an excellent resource for communities at various stages of the process.
Q: How does MCA determine “unserved” and the speeds required for “broadband” service?
A: In transitioning ConnectMaine programs to MCA, the designations of unserved areas and broadband service won’t be changed, except as required by federal funds. The Capital Projects Fund prioritizes areas with service offerings below 100/20mbps. MCA also recognizes preference for least served areas, which ConnectMaine defined as less than 25/3mbps. Maine’s definition of broadband service remains at least 100/100mbps, which is also the preferred performance standard under the Capital Projects Fund. Programming launched this fall will consider:
Below 25/3mbps as least served
Below 100/20mbps as unserved
Below 100/100mbps as underserved
We will still recognize preference for projects that propose service offerings with symmetrical gigabit speeds. We will also use strategies and funds to ensure everyone in Maine who wants an internet connection can get access by 2025.
Q: How do you determine affordability standards?
A: Capital Projects Fund requirements stipulate that the internet service provider involved in funded projects must participate in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). MCA also maintains a state requirement about fair pricing wherein the prices of service offerings must be equal to or less than the price per subscriber location offered by the involved ISP elsewhere in the state.
For approval under the Capital Projects Fund, relying on the ACP subsidy and the ConnectMaine designation of unserved, a service offering of at least 50/10mbps must be offered to those eligible for ACP at a price that is fully subsidized under the ACP, which as of January 2022 is $30 per month. We are also seeking feedback about how to best address affordability at other service levels resulting from funded projects, including these proposed program design elements:
The service offering of at least 100/20mbps is priced no higher than the federal reasonable comparability benchmark for broadband rates as determined by the annual FCC Urban Rate Survey.
MCA will consider the business or operation model for the feasibility of addressing the affordability of service offerings - especially as it pertains to community-owned infrastructure.
Weighting proposals based on a $60/month price of the service offering of at least 100/100mbpssimilar to the last ConnectMaine infrastructure grant application process.
Q: How do you define “future-proof networks”?
A: A future-proof network is one where the cost of building the network doesn’t outlive the network's capacity to meet broadband needs. Performance standards to help ensure that investments are focused on long-term benefits are being added to programming designs. We seek to enable innovation and new value from public-private partnerships to help ensure long-lasting investments.
Q: How do I find out what broadband service currently exists for my community?
A: Today, you can visit the Maine Broadband Coalition’s website to take and view Maine Broadband Speed Testing Initiative. Also, you can find internet service providers listed by county in the Ratewatcher Guide as a starting place. This fall, you can view the Broadband Intelligence Platform to better understand broadband service availability across the state.
Q: Do you have federal funds in the bank?
A: For most of the federal funds available to Maine, MCA must apply to show how the funds will be used. The All-In Programming has been approved, and as grants are awarded, MCA will be reimbursed according to federal requirements. Federal funds aren’t transferred in a large upfront sum to MCA.
Q: Shouldn’t public funds only be awarded for publicly-owned projects?
A: Public-private partnerships are necessary to leverage or maximize investments in last-mile infrastructure; public funds alone would be insufficient to ensure statewide access to internet service, especially by 2025. Guiding our use of funds are the previous state broadband goals, All-In goals, and program principles. Public ownership of broadband infrastructure is only one of the ownership models available. One model or structure may work well in some places and timeframes but doesn’t necessarily translate well to all places or timeframes. We are “all-in” and are using multiple approaches to address the digital gap within the timeframe of state goals.
Q: How will awarded funds be disbursed?
A: Connect the Ready Grants can be requested in four disbursements: Up to 25% of the award can be requested upfront, the second disbursement may be up to 60% of the award total, the third disbursement may be up to 90% of the award total, and the final 10% of the award is released upon approved completion of the project. MCA is seeking feedback on an appropriate disbursement schedule for Reach Me Incentives, e.g., 50% upfront and 50% after completion, or 100% based on spending reports. We are also seeking feedback on participation in Enabling Middle-Mile Partnerships; these funds may look different for each proposal.
Data Collection & Geographic Areas
Q: Will the geographic areas identified for MCA programming be viewable?
A: Yes, this fall, we are excited to publish maps of the areas identified for all-in programming on our website. (This is a difficult endeavor given the complications around data, but we hope to share as much insight to the public around broadband service in Maine.)
Q: How will MCA know where proposed middle-mile projects will take place as last-mile infrastructure is designed?
A: If unserved and underserved areas do not have nearby middle-mile infrastructure that makes last-mile connections possible, then the area could be identified for Enabling Middle-Mile Partnerships and funds. (Since June 2022, MCA has had over 40 direct conversations with stakeholders, providers, communities, and potential partners to help inform this concept. In May, a Request for Proposals was posted to select consultants to help inform a larger middle-mile strategy. In July, we posted a Request For Information to further seek ideas and information.)
Q: Will internet service providers have access to the Broadband Intelligence Platform to better collaborate with MCA throughout the application process?
A: Yes, the Broadband Intelligence Platform will be accessible to participants of all-in programming in coordination with MCA. For example, Connect the Ready applicants will receive access to FiberMap and the data necessary to complete mapping elements as part of the application process. This access will be requested through the grants portal that will be launched in early October. Additionally, several providers already use or are familiar with the VETRO software platform on which the BIP is based. Public maps from the Broadband Intelligence Platform will be available in the fall of 2022.
Q: Will MCA require a network design as part of programming applications?
A: A: Yes, a high-level design of the proposed network will be an application element for both the Connect the Ready and Reach Me programs. This will be similar to the past ConnectMaine application process. Resources and instructions are available for each program within the application portal. There are also Instructions specific to the VETRO Fibermap that outline how to use that system for an application. We hope to streamline and coordinate as much of the process, ensuring providers and communities have everything that is needed to propose projects. One action that applicants will take in the Broadband Intelligence Platform is to generate or import a high-level network design that includes the network routes, the interconnection with existing networks, and includes fiber strand counts as an attribute. The Get Ready Initiative won’t require network designs upfront; we hope to help communities and partners generate such designs through program participation.
Q: Will Provider outreach be an eligibility requirement?
A: ConnectMaine was required by state law to have potential applicants provide outreach to internet service providers “to confirm whether or not installation of broadband infrastructure and service of at least 100mpbs download and 100mbps upload, equivalent to the proposed project, would occur within the same period as the proposed project.” While this limitation isn’t applicable to MCA as well, we are seeking feedback on how best to ensure grant necessity or the project's need for funds. Broadband funds are intended to be awarded for projects that wouldn’t otherwise occur. We are using the Broadband Intelligence Platform to prioritize programming for specific areas of need. Identifying planned networks, collecting industry data filings, and encouraging community/ISP conversations are ways that we are striving to meet the program principles.
Q: Why doesn’t Maine have a law like New Hampshire that requires providers to share detailed information with communities interested in bonding for broadband infrastructure?
A: Maine has annual required data filing through ConnectMaine’s legal requirements, which have now been assigned to MCA. Once developed, the Broadband Intelligence Platform will be a source of broadband data to support community planning. MCA isn’t a policy-making body and won’t undertake rulemaking in the near future. The Community-Driven Broadband Planning Process includes the assessment of existing networks and plans. Communities and providers should work together to plan solutions that leverage assets and achieve broadband goals.
Q: Will MCA help fund the increased expense of the new FCC Broadband Data Collection? The FCC requires data in a manner that is expensive to produce, and providers may have to pass this cost on to consumers.
A: Sorry - while we can’t fund FCC data filings, we have posted helpful resources for data collection on the website, and the FCC is making the baseline data available to data filers. The data filling is very similar to the last two annual required data filing requests made by ConnectMaine. Where broadband service is offered, data filings help to protect the provider’s investments; where broadband service isn’t offered, data filings will help ensure Maine receives all available federal funds. We appreciate that this can be onerous for the small businesses looking to provide connectivity, especially as it is such an important part of determining how much public funding is needed to bridge the digital divide.
Q: How do you differentiate between resident and seasonal populations?
A: Potential subscriber locations are inclusive of residences, businesses, and other institutions. How locations are occupied or used can change over time. The differentiation could affect how a community plans for broadband and how an internet service provider prices its service offerings.
Connect the Ready
Q: Would a public-sector applicant or Broadband Utility District need a private ISP partner for a Connect the Ready application this fall?
A: Yes, public-private partnerships are important to the success of Connect the Ready projects. At a minimum, a formal expression of support from the leadership of the affected communities is required. A memorandum of understanding between partners that covers aspects of construction and initial broadband service will be required for a proposed project involving financial commitment from a community or involving public ownership of broadband infrastructure.
Q: What is the best way to build a partnership with an ISP? Is the only way to apply for a project to have the ISP take the lead?
A: Communities and regions at the beginning stages of considering an infrastructure project and wanting to build a relationship with an ISP could look to the Get Ready Initiative for technical assistance. While Connect the Ready applications will be welcomed from ISPs, communities, tribes, and utility districts, public-private partnerships are important to the success of proposed projects, and we encourage a demonstrated partnership. The Community-Driven Broadband Planning Process is the best way to start building partnerships, and more information can be found here.
Q: Is regionalization required: Does more than only one municipality need to be involved in a proposed project?
A: No, but regionalization is encouraged where proposed projects are more cost-effective, feasible, and/or likely to advance universal broadband service. Potential applicants will need to assess their individual situations as they consider the competitiveness of their Connect the Ready Grants application. There is no requirement for applicants to propose projects in more than one municipality, and there is not a cookie-cutter answer for how much regionalization helps.
Q: Will MCA require a minimum financial commitment to proposed projects? What if this amount exceeds the total project cost?
A: Yes, but the minimum amount may vary from program to program. Under Connect the Ready and Reach Me, the minimum financial commitment is proposed to be a dollar amount per potential subscriber location, recognizing the high cost of projects in low-density areas. The amount needs to be high enough for adequate cost-sharing to allow investments to be maximized. In the last application window, ConnectMaine used $700 per location. If the financial commitment exceeded the total project cost, then the scope was too small, or the area was very dense. This is also an indicator of grant necessity. Using a percentage of project cost instead of a dollar amount per location wouldn’t recognize the factor of density. While the Capital Projects Fund encourages cost-sharing, there isn’t a percentage requirement like there will be under BEAD funds in the future. The minimum financial commitment will be lower, possibly $500 per location, for proposed projects in areas of lower incomes or lower valuations, to recognize community financial capacity. . Financial commitments from the applicant and its partners must be documented. Documentation may include, for example, bank or financial statements showing cash on hand, letters of credit from a bank, official record of a municipal or county appropriation of funds, official record of approval of a bond, etc.
Q: How will in-kind contributions be considered? What if the project cost includes ineligible expenses?
A: The financial commitment helps achieve a program principal of leveraging and maximizing investments, because the total amount of funds that will become available to Maine must be augmented with other dollars to cover the estimated $600 million gap in broadband infrastructure. The current programming designs won’t allow a financial commitment that is unsecured or that is contingent on other programming decisions. These can be listed as resources, but the funds being requested may have to be increased to account for uncertainty until the financial commitment can be secured. If in-kind contributions are monetary costs of the project, they should be accounted as such; in-kind contributions occurring prior to award aren’t considered as part of the proposed project cost. Ineligible expenses under the Capital Projects Fund will be listed in the program materials; any such project costs will need to be otherwise covered by the financial commitment. While ineligible expenses aren’t prohibited, they will need to be accounted and tracked carefully.
Q: Are there limits to the number of applications? Any caps on the grant amounts requested?
A: The programming design doesn’t include a limitation on the number of applications that can be submitted for different projects in different areas, but multiple applications from the same entities for the same project area won’t be accepted. There aren’t any caps on project cost or grant amount requested. Connect the Ready Grants are for ready partners and ready projects to supplement secured financial commitments. Applications that include more than the minimum financial commitment may be more competitive; these evaluation criteria will be outlined in the application guide.
Get Ready Initiative
Q: Do communities need to reboot their broadband planning efforts to participate in MCA programming?
A: No, communities that have feasible infrastructure projects ready for deployment can potentially apply for Connect the Ready Grants. Communities that aren’t ready may consider whether participation in the Get Ready Initiative can help prepare them for the next application window. MCA will also be designing additional programming to support communities in many different stages of planning and with digital inclusion efforts. Our goal is to get communities to “yes.”
Q: When reviewing minimum financial commitment requirements, can the financial capacity of communities be considered?
A: Yes, because we are committed to meeting partnerships where they are and have designed All-In Programming with a variety of pathways to success. (If community capacity is a challenge, we hope to work with partners to provide a variety of technical assistance, financial support, and other resources to bolster capacity through the Get Ready Initiative.) During this engagement process, we seek feedback about using a lower minimum contribution when communities own the infrastructure and/or evaluate public benefit built into the proposed project, as demonstrated through Connect the Ready application or participation in Get Ready.
Q: What is the plan to help communities get up-to-date provider-specific broadband availability mapping?
A: The MCA is currently seeking information from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to help inform maps that convey broadband availability. At the same time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is also collecting information to create maps that will inform how much money MCA will be able to deploy through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Both data collection efforts will help make the Broadband Intelligence Platform (BIP) and public maps more useful. Before we get through current data collection and BIP development this fall, communication with your ISPs is the most timely way to gain information about existing and planned networks. If your community is still assessing the existing infrastructure, you may consider whether or not the Get Ready Initiative could support your planning efforts.
Enable Middle Mile Partnerships
Q: What role will the “Three-Ring Binder” middle-mile fiber backbone play?
A: The Three-Ring Binder remains an important, central part of the state's middle-mile infrastructure. Enabling Middle-Mile Partnerships can leverage this investment and will seek to reach more places and reduce the cost of middle-mile services.
Q: How will community engagement or acknowledgment be ensured under Reach Me?
A: During the proposal process, qualified ISPs will be required to notify each of the affected communities of their proposal for Reach Me Incentives.
Reach Me Line Extension Incentives
Q: How will you consider Reach Me proposals that overlap with Connect the Ready projects?
A: Reach Me is entirely new programming for Maine. As such, we are working to avoid overlaps as the purpose of the programs differ. Reach Me Incentives will support line extensions from existing networks in mostly served communities. Connect the Ready Grants will be awarded for universal broadband projects in unserved and underserved regions where there’s nearby middle-mile infrastructure but where line extensions wouldn’t fully serve the community. To identify areas for each, we are using the Broadband Intelligence Platform, but participants in either program shouldn’t feel locked in based on these identified areas.
Q: How will community engagement or acknowledgment be ensured under Reach Me?
A: During the review of proposals, MCA will continue efforts to align all-in programs. This may include communications among community leaders, ISPs and MCA Regional Broadband Partners, who have received funds to help ensure benefits of broadband infrastructure investments in all regions of the state, through digital equity and inclusion efforts among other activities.
Q: Have the key dates changed for Reach Me Incentives?
A: Yes; key dates will be updated to be consistent across the website, Guide and portal. This is a new program for Maine, and we are trying to consider all feedback as program materials are developed. This program is also greatly dependent on the 2022 data filings from the industry, and we are continuing to align this with the FCC broadband data collection efforts.
Regional Broadband Partners
Q: Do potential digital inclusion partners listed in the application need to be committed prior to the application deadline?
A: Partners do not need to be committed to the digital inclusion alliance prior to the submission of the proposal. However, it will be very helpful to have conversations with some or all of those key partners in October and November prior to the official program launch in early December.
Q: Our organization does not have experience in broadband and digital equity work, and hasn’t had the capacity to do this work in the past. Should we still apply?
A: Yes. This program is designed to increase the capacity and expertise of a broad range of partners in order to deploy broadband infrastructure and maximize its benefit for all Mainers. The support and learning provided within the Regional Broadband Partners program will be tailored to grantees’ needs. We envision that grantees will support one another as well, with newer partners having the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others who have been more engaged in broadband and digital equity in the past.
Q: In the past, the data and mapping of broadband service has been inaccurate. What is the status of mapping?
A: MCA continues to work with providers and communities to gather data about broadband service across the state. The FCC will be releasing new data and maps at some point this fall, and Maine is working with Vetro Fiber Map and Tilson Technology to be prepared to challenge the federal data to ensure it is as accurate as possible prior to the state funding allocations. MCA plans to have a “public viewer” available this fall.
Q: How do we know how much to apply for within the range up to a maximum of $250,000?
A: There is no specific set formula. MCA intends that awards will be made based on the scale of the region that the partner is proposing to support (geography, population, number of potentially under- and unserved areas), as well as analysis of the existing and planned staffing scenarios to support the particular region. With this in mind, the largest grant awards will be for regional partners proposing to support significant geographic or population-size regions and with limited existing capacity. This is an important part of the conversation during individual meetings with MCA staff prior to the deadline.
Q: If we plan to utilize a consultant or contractor in a part-time capacity, say to organize and facilitate a regional digital inclusion alliance, do we need a specific written agreement or estimate to base that cost on in the proposal budget?
A: This would be helpful to have, but understanding the timeline is short you may not have this for the deadline. In lieu of a specific contract or estimate, please provide an educated estimate based on a similar contract or rate and describe these details in the notes section of the budget. We would like an estimate that is specific about the amount of time x the hourly rate or other specific calculations that allowed you to arrive at the total line item.
Q: Are indirect costs allowed?
A: The State has declared and committed that it will spend as much of this discretionary spending as possible on the programs meant to improve the lives of Maine people and families, help businesses, create good-paying jobs, and build an economy poised for future prosperity.
So, although US Treasury allows for it, the State of Maine has determined that only direct administrative costs may be charged in the administration of its State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (aka SLFRF aka MJRP).
Indirect costs are overhead costs for operations that are currently being covered with other funds. If new personnel, supplies, materials, contractors, computers, paper, check stock, and other allowable reasonable and necessary expenses are needed to administer the MJRP initiative, those costs may be budgeted for and expended as direct administrative costs from the MJRP initiative funding.
As a reminder, as with all federal programs, these funds will be audited and, as is the norm, only expenses incurred for the direct administration of the program will be approved.
The subrecipient grant agreement will clearly state that indirect costs are not permitted by the State for these SLFRF/MJRP funds.
Q: What is digital equity? Digital inclusion?
A: Digital equity is the condition when everyone- individuals and communities- is able to fully benefit from high-speed internet, including the economic, educational, health, social, civic benefits, etc. Digital inclusion are those activities that strive toward reaching digital equity - typically ensuring that people have affordable access to robust and reliable internet, that they have access to affordable devices that meet their needs, and that they have the digital skills to fully take advantage of the benefits of being connected. You can find more formal definitions here from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
Q: How will MCA support locations where traditional last-mile infrastructure makes little sense?
A: MCA is evaluating alternative technologies to help ensure that everyone who wants an internet connection can get access by 2025. The Jumpstart Initiative is piloting wireless technology. MCA is aware that Starlink is still in beta testing and that performance of the service doesn’t meet the requirements of available federal funding. While alternatives don’t currently meet the performance standards for broadband, they can be a part of the puzzle to expanding internet service.
Q: Where are the discussions about cellular service?
A: The federal funds currently available are for broadband service, but we recognize the need for all kinds of telecommunications services, especially since better cell coverage in Maine will require a more robust middle mile infrastructure to bring fiber to cell towers. That is partly why middle mile strategies are factored into MCA’s overall strategy. You can review the last report on cellular coverage on the ConnectMaine website: https://www.maine.gov/connectme/about/annual-reports