The Maine Broadband Coalition recently observed: “[W]ithout high-speed Internet connections, Maine companies will not be able to compete, new companies will not relocate to Maine, highly skilled workers will not relocate to Maine and talented young people will leave.”
Telecommuting and home-based businesses are on the rise. According to the Fiber Broadband Association, a quarter of owners of home-based businesses say they could not operate without fiber to the home, and telecommuters say their employers would be less likely to let them work from home without fast, reliable fiber broadband.
Studies show that telecommuting is not just a trend, it’s here to stay, rising 11 times faster than the non-telecommuting workforce over the past 15 years. According to The New York Times, about 43 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2016 worked remotely to some degree. And studies indicate that Millennials freelance more than any other generation, with estimates suggesting the majority of them will be doing so by 2027. Even more striking, over half of the respondents to one study considered working remote from home a “must have,” being a critical consideration when applying for work or bidding on a potential job in the freelance industry.
The Small Business Administration reports that small businesses comprise 99.7% of all U.S. businesses, and approximately 50 percent of them are home-based firms. As the job market shifts towards preferring to work at home, broadband will be supporting the growth for home-based businesses over the next decade.
Attracting businesses and revenue to rural areas like Maine is critical to our economic growth and sustainability. In the 2018 gubernatorial race, every candidate elevated rural broadband as a key issue. Governor Mills has observed “the economy of our future cannot be built on the infrastructure of the past. Maine needs wider broadband access and businesses need greater speed.”
Efforts in Other Maine Communities
The rural Maine communities of Calais and Baileyville recognized the need to do something bold. With an aging population, the need to retain and attract young people, and no hope that large telecom companies would bring cheaper, faster, reliable broadband to them—Calais and Baileyville joined forces to create Downeast Broadband Utility (DBU). The 87-mile fiber network is 75 percent complete and has been paid for by the subscribers of the service, not taxpayers. An ever-increasing number of residents are signing up, and more towns are seeking to join the DBU.
Affordable access to broadband is as critical to attracting new people, businesses, and opportunities as it is to sustaining the businesses and residents here today, according to a 2018 report
Making Maine Work, a collaboration of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Development Foundation, and Educate Maine. One of the driving forces in creating Downeast Broadband Utility was the need to support the employers already in the area, chief among them being paper production, which today is highly computerized and requires a high-speed reliable connection.
Maine farmers recently testified in Augusta about the critical need for broadband to sustain their farms, which use technology to increase crop yields. Maine’s blueberry farmers are tracking pertinent digital information that includes details such as amounts and locations of harvests, price per pound and pesticide use.
And lobstermen, some of whom are required to report data to the Department of Marine Resources, have found value in data collection for tracking fishery and resource trends, particularly in light of news that conditions could indicate a future decline in the resource.
Broadband has been described as the “interstate highway system of the 21st century,” and Maine policy and business experts have highlighted in the Making Maine Work report the need for Maine to increase the size and skills of its shrinking workforce or face negative prospects, including less available jobs, lower incomes, less income tax revenue and poorer schools.
Maine’s U.S. Senator Angus King observed, providing broadband allows people to work where they live instead of being forced to live where they work. Broadband can play a pivotal role in maintaining Maine as not only a phenomenal place to live —but an ideal play to live and work—attracting full-time residents, contributing to and sustaining the Maine economy and making it a vital active place for young people and families. With the largest percentage of seniors of any U.S. state, Maine needs these workers to support our economy.
High-speed Internet is vital to the economic development of Midcoast Maine. It will enable existing companies to compete in the national and international arenas; new companies and highly-skilled workers to relocate to the Midcoast region; and talented young people to remain.
Marcel Polak is pushing for broadband in Woodstock and surrounding towns so that jobs in customer service for L.L. Bean can become a reality. Woodstock's online speeds are far below the minimum standards that L.L. Bean requires. The way it is now, Polak notes, people who live in Leon Bean's hometown of Greenwood can't work for the firm he founded "because they're virtually offline in a world that depends on broadband access."
-Portland Press Herald, "State Lagging on Road to High-Speed Service," March 14, 2021
"Previously considered a “perk,” remote work is quickly becoming a priority for many. More than 40% of millennials, who now make up the largest generation in the workforce, say flexibility to work from anywhere is a priority when evaluating job opportunities. And companies are taking note; Amazon, CVS Health, and American Express all boast a significant number of remote work opportunities."
-LinkedIn 2020 Emerging Jobs Report