Maine's Federally Funded "3-Ring Binder" Project - Open Access Dark Fiber Now Available Throughout Maine
Historically, large telecommunications companies like AT&T, Verizon, cable companies, and others control much of the U.S. based Internet backbone, while "last mile" retail Internet service providers (ISP) charge you a monthly fee to provide a "last mile" Internet connection to your home or business. In Maine, one of the key roadblocks to the expansion of Internet service has been an infrastructure that is inadequate to allow efficient routing of Internet traffic between local ISPs in rural areas and the Internet backbone.
An Open-Access Dark Fiber Network Throughout Maine
To improve Maine's connectivity, the 3-Ring Binder project was designed and proposed by a group including the University of Maine and GWI. The federal government, as part of the economic stimulus programs in 2008-2009, awarded $25.4 million for this project, supplemented by a private investment of $7.5 million from Maine Fiber Company (MFC), which owns and operates the fiber facilities. MFC completed construction of this new 1100 route-mile fiber-optic network in August of 2012. As seen in the map below, fiber is now available for lease in some of Maine's most rural areas. MFC is actively seeking customers to lease fiber-optic facilities, and has several carriers, retail ISPs, and public sector customers currently utilizing fiber on the network.
- The 3- Ring Binder is a 1,100 mile, open access, middle-mile fiber optic network that was completed in August of 2012. The project will make broadband Internet access more readily available to approximately 110,000 households in Maine.
- As of November 2012, (12) carriers have signed up to use the network. In addition, there are (2) higher education organizations, and (2) municipalities taking advantage of the middle-mile fiber. The University System of Maine uses the fiber to connect 22 of their campus and satellite locations.
- The network passes through approximately 172 towns in the state, including many in very rural areas of Maine.
- The project connects 100 community anchor institutions (CAI) to the network. Community anchor institutions include hospitals, rural healthcare clinics, community colleges, University of Maine campuses, libraries, government facilities, and public safety departments.
Enabling and Enhancing Internet Access
This new, open-access non-discriminatory fiber optic-cable infrastructure enables cost effective and reliable Internet services in a number of ways, including:
- Connecting to new remote terminals (outdoor cabinets) that will serve new customers who are presently too far from phone company offices.
- Connect wireless towers to the Internet backbone.
- Connecting small phone company offices to the Internet backbone.
- Allowing redundant fiber 'ring' configurations to improve reliability and performance.
- Potential fiber to the home for advanced services, as well as advanced services for business, educational, government, public safety, and healthcare organizations.
- Allowing economical access to wholesale internet with dark fiber connectivity to Boston and Canada.
Three Ring Binder and Maine Fiber Company - Early Examples of Economic Impact
- MFC fiber and Connect ME grants are being used by Pioneer Broadband to make broadband services available to over 2000 unserved or underserved households in Aroostook and Washington Counties.
- MFC fiber is being used to provide cost-effective optical connectivity to over 50 commercial locations throughout Maine.
- Piscataquis County Economic Development Corporation is working with MFC to provide fiber connectivity as critical infrastructure for a data center and incubator space project in Dover-Foxcroft.
- The Town of Greenwood was unable to find a carrier to serve their Town Garage location with internet access, which is needed to insure the Town's plow drivers are aware of storm conditions. They now lease fiber directly from MFC so they can extend internet to this critical location.
- The Town of Scarborough is leasing fiber from MFC to cost-effectively interconnect municipal buildings, including public safety locations.
- MFC fiber has been extended to 29 Maine Schools and Libraries Network (MSLN) sites in rural parts of the State, lowering costs and increasing bandwidth capabilities.
- The University of Maine System is leveraging the Three Ring Binder as the broadband backbone to connect all of its campuses. In addition, the Three Ring Binder is enabling the University System to be nationally competitive for National Science Foundation (NSF) grants which require applicants to have sufficient network infrastructure to offload research data, such as electron micrograph images, to other research institutions.
- Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick is leveraging the Three Ring Binder to transfer large files, such as CT scans, to specialists in Portland. This enables faster diagnoses and treatment for stroke victims. As CAIs are built at rural healthcare clinics throughout the state, this benefit will be leveraged by people throughout Maine. The high speed broadband provided by the Three Ring Binder also enables the delivery of an array of telemedicine services.
- Mid Coast Hospital is also using the Three Ring Binder to connect numerous campuses to each other. In addition to facilitating the transfer of information, Mid Coast is leveraging high speed, secure networks that meet HIPPA requirements for patient confidentiality.
- The Three Ring Binder is driving economic development efforts in Aroostook County. Carl Flora, President and CEO of the Loring Development Authority in Limestone, a BRAC site, observed that, "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."
Open Access, Non-Discriminatory Approach
MFC charges low, uniform rates in a non-discriminatory manner, allowing any company or organization to utilize the federally funded fiber optic facilities in Maine. Additional information can be found on MFC's website at www.mainefiberco.com or by contacting their Portland offices at 207-699-4550.
In 2006, the Legislature created the ConnectME Authority to develop and carry out its broadband strategy by identifying unserved areas of the state; developing proposals for broadband expansion projects, demonstration projects and other initiatives; administering the process for selecting specific broadband projects; and providing funding, resources and incentives (PL 2005, c. 665.). In 2007, the Legislature also approved the Authority's major substantive rule that defines the state's broadband strategy and describes how that strategy is to be implemented. The Authority consists of a board of five members, an Executive Director, Associate Executive Director, assistance from the Office of Information Technology and an Advisory Council. Authority and Advisory Council members.