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Governor Mills: High-speed internet is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.

In my first State of the State address as Governor this week, I told the people of Maine, you watching in homes, businesses and shops across the state and listening this morning, that our economy is on a solid footing and it is growing.

Revenues are up, our gross domestic product is up, housing starts, construction, auto sales are all up and the state budget continues to have a healthy surplus. The private sector created 5,300 new jobs this past year. My Administration helped 800 people with disabilities find and keep jobs. Our unemployment rate went down, we paid off the $80 million debt for the Riverview Psychiatric Center and we stopped the bleeding of interest payments to the federal

My Administration added $30 million to the Budget Stabilization Fund, for a total of $237 million – and I am proposing to add another $20 million more.

And, on a bipartisan basis, we provided $75 million in property tax relief for Maine people — just look in your mailbox, about 300,000 of you should receive a $104 check.

While all this is progress, it is also important to address the challenges that still loom large over our economy. We are not taking anything for granted and we look at the future with cautious optimism.

Our State’s ten-year economic development plan says if we want to strengthen our economy, we have to enhance critical infrastructure, including broadband, particularly in rural Maine.

We all know the problems with internet – slow internet and no internet. This company, DesignLab, for instance, a marketing and design firm in Millinocket, used to upload their video files on a hard drive, drive to the Medway gas station, and ask a bus driver to deliver the files to a video editor in Presque.

Internet speeds were dismal for them, and it severely limited their productivity. But now, with broadband in Millinocket, they are succeeding.

You know, as one small businessperson put it to me the other day, “You want to grow the economy?” she said, “Give us better internet.”

It is time for us to listen. High-speed internet is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.

Increasing access to high speed internet will allow our businesses to expand and allow people across the state to connect with schools, with health care providers and with markets around the country and around the world.

I am proposing that the Legislature fund $15 million this year to expand broadband for Maine people and Maine businesses. We just can’t afford to wait any longer.

More than 100 communities across Maine have worked with their local hospitals, schools, businesses and providers to identify how they can bring better internet to their towns. They are ready to go for broadband – the only thing they are waiting for now is funding.

Some state funding, along with private and federal investments, can bring internet to the most rural communities Maine, and this initial investment of state funds is long-overdue and very important.

Please join me in asking your state representatives and your state senators in the Legislature to support investments in broadband.

It’s an investment in our economy and in your success.

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