AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that passed unanimously through the Legislature last week and was signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci on Tuesday formally paves the way for a 1,100-mile fiber-optic network known as the Three Ring Binder.
LD 1778 establishes a new category of public utility — dark fiber provider — and creates a broadband sustainability fund to support “last mile” high-speed Internet infrastructure to unserved areas.
Late last year, the Three Ring Binder project was awarded $25.4 million in stimulus money from the U.S. Department of Commerce to create a “middle-mile” network throughout rural Maine. A private firm, Maine Fiber Co., formed to oversee construction, maintenance and eventual leasing of the new network, will include approximately $7 million in matching funds from the company’s stakeholders.
Several Maine Internet companies have pledged support of the project as a way to bring high-speed access to parts of the state that have long been overlooked.
“As a Maine-based company, we are thankful for the broad, bipartisan and nonpartisan support we received from the Maine Legislature, the governor’s office and the broad coalition of other public and private sector people who helped us reach this point,” Maine Fiber Co. CEO Dwight Allison said in a statement. “We plan to move forward honoring the letter and spirit of the hard work that went into LD1778 by this group and focus on building a network that will provide critical infrastructure for economic growth in Maine for years to come.”
A competing piece of legislation, LD 1697, pushed by FairPoint Communications that would have limited the Three Ring Binder’s reach, died in committee. Although FairPoint has challenged the Three Ring Binder project from the beginning, the company recently has been more open to working together.
“Reaching this point took a lot of time and effort by a broad coalition of people with different viewpoints,” said MFC President Joshua Broder. “We didn’t all start in the same place, but we reached an agreement that should allow the Three Ring Binder to move forward without delay.”
Work on the Three Ring Binder, which has two phases, already has begun. The first and most time-intensive phase involves making the utility poles ready. Full-scale construction of the project will get under way this spring and, although the grant requires that the project be complete within three years, portions of the network could be operational by the end of 2010.
“We believe the central reason Maine Fiber Company’s Three Ring Binder Project won federal funding in the first round of broadband expansion grants was because of the open-access, nondiscriminatory model created in the application,” said Robert C.S. Monks, a partner and investor in Maine Fiber Co. “This legislation turns that model into law.”
For more information about the 1,100-mile, high-capacity, open-access fiber network, visit the Maine Fiber Co. Web site, www.mainefiberco.com.