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High Speed Internet Build-Out Project Completed Ahead of Schedule and On Budget
09/28/2012   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

A $32-million statewide project has finished on budget and ahead of schedule and was celebrated in a ceremony in Brunswick. The Three Ring Binder Project, which brings a 1,100 mile high speed internet network to far flung corners of the state, is being hailed as a business and economic driver.

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The name "Three Ring Binder" doesn't really convey just how big a deal this project is. Imagine the state of Maine before the interstate highway system. Sure, you could get around on existing roads, but it took awhile. Once the interstate highway was built, boom. Suddenly, people and businesses had access to a lot more markets, a lot more quickly. That's what this Three Ring Binder Project does only, through the internet highway, connected with fiber optic cables to 30,000 telephone poles.

"But ya know, this interstate with respect to the Three Ring Binder, is a looped network, three rings around the state," said Tim McAfee, CEO of Pioneer Broadband in Houlton. "So, the interstate doesn't just go north and south, it goes all over the state."

While speaking during the ceremony, McAfee said he's already used the network to bring high speed internet to towns like Cary, Amity, and Orient in Aroostook County.

"Now if you don't know where they are, you're not alone," said McAfee. "Cary and Amity, households of a hundred or 65 households. Orient, mostly a seasonal population around a lake community."

Before, bringing high speed internet to small, rural towns wasn't possible because it cost thousands of dollars. The virtual highway that the Three Ring network provides makes it possible, but so does something else. In most other states, to access to a fiber optic network like this, different companies pay different prices depending on their size and geography. But in Maine, to tap into the 3-ring network is the same price for everyone, whether you're in Cumberland County or Washington County.

"Since telecommunications began, what it's always done is shrunk distances," said Fletcher Kittredge, CEO of GWI, an internet service provider in Biddeford.

Kittredge also helped with the project. "And the number one problem that the Maine economy has is distance," he said. "It's our distance from the rest of the world and big markets and also, our distance internal in the state. We're a large state with a population scattered throughout it and the cost of delivering services, there's a kind of inherent Maine tax."

Kittredge said he's seeing a wave of innovation and startups in southern Maine like he's never seen before/in the past 50 years. Now, he said hopefully that wave will roll up to the northern part of the state. And while he said it's difficult to predict how much of a game-changer this will be for Maine, he says, look back to history as a guide.

"When they built the interstate system, it really did make Maine Vactionland in a way it couldn't be before."

That, he said, created a whole industry based on tourism. He said Maine could be the birthplace of the next Google or Facebook. If you think that's a pie-in-the-sky dream, last year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked Maine as the best in the nation for friendly business infrastructure. It directly referenced the Three Ring Binder Project as the reason for the ranking.


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