Connecting Maine to the global economy with a high-speed Internet Network

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

October 4th, 2012 

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The Three Ring Binder fiber optic broadband system in Maine that opens the door to businesses who need broadband

“Maine now has one of the strongest fiber optic backbones in the entire country,” said Former Governor John Baldacci. “We know the people of Maine can successfully compete anywhere in the world, but to realize opportunities and grow jobs, access to the latest technology is essential to compete in the global economy. The Three Ring Binder network helps close the digital divide and opens new opportunities up for job creation across our state with business expansion and other businesses coming here.”

It’s called the Three Ring Binder, for the three rings of fiber optics that circle and wind through a 1,100-mile network via western, eastern and northern Maine. The network encompasses 110,000 households, 600 schools, libraries and other institutions and 38 government facilities. And for the first time, Maine has a direct high-speed link to Halifax and Boston.

“It will allow University of Maine students to take courses from other universities around the world, and doctors at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor to diagnose patients hundreds of miles away. And businesses will be able to increase their markets,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in Orono, when the federal government issued a $25.4 million Recovery Act grant to jump-start the project.

The project, which was completed ahead of schedule has supported about 400 jobs including 323 full-time positions, is living up to expectations, and is going beyond what was anticipated.

“Now any qualified company that wants access to fiber optic infrastructure to expand true high-speed Internet service to consumers and businesses across Maine can get access at affordable, non-discriminatory rates,” said Dwight Allison, CEO of Maine Fiber. “That means more competition, more startups. You can start a company now and have, in essence, a $30 million fiber network at your disposal without having to write out a $30 million check.”

This collaborative effort among telecommunications companies, and Maine educational institutions and others is beginning to enhance broadband Internet access, which currently is at about 61 percent. That percentage will rise as more Internet carriers get on board. There are already 12 customers leasing fiber on the network and another 29 contracts under consideration. The network is already reaching unserved or underserved communities in Central Maine, Aroostook and Washington counties.

“The Three Ring Binder has helped GWI expand high-speed Internet service to eight communities across the state – and we are building the first of many planned world class ‘Gigabit Main Street’ fiber networks in Old Town and Orono,” said GWI CEO Fletcher Kittredge.

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A Oxford-Line worker installing broadband fiber optic technology on the Three Ring Binder

Axiom Technologies in Washington County is leveraging the Three Ring Binder to provide high speed Internet access to Down East Community Hospital and two underserved areas in Machias.

“Open access to this amount of reliable, path-diverse high-speed Internet infrastructure has already had a noticeable impact here at Loring. This new infrastructure project has opened up a whole bunch of new opportunities for economic growth in Limestone and rural Maine,” Carl Flora, President and CEO of the Loring Development Authority in Limestone

The Town of Greenwood uses access to insure the Town’s plow drivers are aware of storm conditions. The Town of Scarborough uses it to interconnect municipal buildings, including public safety locations.

The University of Maine System uses the system as the broadband backbone to connect all of its campuses. Now students in Machias can listen to lectures and participate in real time with campuses across the country. The University has also become nationally competitive for National Science Foundation grants which require applicants to have sufficient network infrastructure to offload research data.

Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick is leveraging the Three Ring Binder to transfer large files, such as CT scans, to specialists at other hospital, enabling faster diagnoses and treatments. And telemedicine services have been enhanced along with mental health counseling through videoconferencing to patients who are house-bound.

“The Three Ring Binder Project will be remembered as the initiative that helped truly connect Maine to the world. It has already directly connected so many critical Maine institutions, health centers, business hubs, community centers, and universities,” said Congressman Mike Michaud. “There is no doubt that this project’s completion will help position our state for future growth.”

It has also opened the doors for businesses that need to have fast bandwidth ability to locate to Maine.

“It puts the state on the map internationally. National and international carriers now have access to Maine that they never had before,” said Jeff McCarthy, vice president of business development for Maine Fiber Co. “We’re the backbone going into really remote areas.”

Information Technology infrastructure has been growing in the state since Baldacci introduced ConnectME which identified where broadband or terrestrial high-speed Internet was needed and then dispersed grants to those areas to help them “connect” with the global economy via the internet. In 2007 a $3-million state appropriation, designed to boost economic growth in Maine through research and development, helped pay for a fiber-optic network. The Tree Ring Binder builds upon this work, connecting one-fifth of Maine’s households to it.

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Fiber optics

In 2011 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce declared Maine as the number one in the nation for business friendly infrastructure because of the Three Ring Binder Network.

“Through this incredible partnership, as well as the healthcare and higher education systems created with this endeavor, small businesses will now have a competitive edge in telecommunications access in Maine,” said Senator Olympia Snowe.