UMaine system draws fire in competing for broadband funds

The University of Maine System (UMS) has come under criticism from a local internet service provider for applying for federal broadband stimulus funding, reports the Bangor Daily News. FairPoint lobbyists and officials are charging that UMS is unfairly competing with them for federal funds to improve broadband access in the state, with potentially tens of millions of dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act fueling the dispute. "The fact is, we are competing with the University of Maine," said Severin Beliveau, an Augusta attorney representing FairPoint. "I am concerned at what the university is proposing here, because it is receiving … a subsidy from taxpayers, in competing with the private sector." Jeff Letourneau, the associate director of information technology at UMS, said the proposal is not the university’s but is from a private-public partnership, of which UMS is just one member. "The university is not putting forward a stimulus proposal," he said. "What we are doing is backing one that best meets our needs." The issue before the state Broadband Strategy Council is which proposals it will recommend, if any, for funding under the federal law. State Rep. Cynthia Dill, co-chairman of the council, said the recovery act spells out that applications are encouraged from both the public and private sectors. "I don’t see anything wrong with the university seeking the best system for them," she said, "and working with others in the private sector to get that system. I think that’s fine."

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