The jungle book

County develops broadband app to distribute $1.5 million in ARPA funds

Cities in Lincoln County will have several options for seeking broadband grants over the next two years. The Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission is developing a broadband grant application to distribute $1.5 million to local projects. Lincoln County received $6.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds and earmarked a significant portion for broadband expansion.

During the September 20 meeting of commissioners, LCRPC Executive Director Mary Ellen Barnes outlined the objectives of a potential grant application. She proposed capping county grants at $100,000 and requiring cities to match it. Another proposed condition would base grants on the percentage of a city that is unserved or underserved with broadband options. Barnes estimated that two cities were close to potentially submitting a bid. “There’s quite a bit of work involved in completing an application,” she said. “We’re going to want to know which ISPs a community works with and other sources of funding.”

Barnes believes communities that get a county broadband grant will be successful in securing funding from the new Maine Connectivity Authority, which will award grants in 2022 and 2023. The MCA was created in 2021 as a quasi-governmental agency responsible for ensuring universal access to high-speed broadband. Barnes reported that Maine was using $110 million in ARPA funds to implement MCA goals.

In another action, Barnes reported on a memorandum of understanding with the Midcoast Council of Governments. Under the agreement, Lincoln County will notify local businesses of grant opportunities if MCOG receives a federal grant. “This will bring significant funding to local businesses. It happened on September 8, so all the details are still being worked out,” she said.

Barnes described the LCRPC’s role in the MUA as “spreading the word” to local businesses and providing support, promotion and marketing for the grant. She also updated commissioners on progress toward a contract with Camion Associates to provide a countywide housing study. “We are still working out the details of the contract and the study should not take more than six months.”