June 20, 2018
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FairPoint reapplies for funds

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

Undeterred by last winter’s rejection of three federal grant applications, FairPoint Communications Inc. has reapplied for more than $20 million in stimulus funding to expand broadband Internet access to rural Maine.

On Friday, FairPoint spokesman Jeffrey Nevins confirmed the application, which was first reported on the broadband technology industry Web site www.stimulatingbroadband.com.

“This [infrastructure] would go directly to residential customers and critical institutions such as schools, hospitals and libraries,” he said.

Last December, FairPoint lost out on nearly $18 million in grant funding from a pool of stimulus money disbursed by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA.

The latest application — round two of the same pool of federal funds — asks for just over $20 million and would require a match of more than $10 million by FairPoint, according to Nevins.

Part of the funding would support what is known as “middle mile” infrastructure, the basic backbone of a fiber-optic network that is similar to an interstate highway. The rest of the funding would finance “last mile” projects, which branch off middle-mile infrastructure and directly serve homes and businesses. Most of the last-mile network would cater to Washington and Hancock counties.

A competing project, known as the Three Ring Binder, was awarded $25.4 million in stimulus funds last fall to create an extensive middle-mile network throughout rural Maine. FairPoint, which bought Verizon Communications assets in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont in 2008, has been critical of the Three Ring Binder from the beginning. Specifically, FairPoint has built more than 400 miles of fiber and invested more than $100 million in broadband since it bought the Verizon network and believes the Three Ring Binder would duplicate much of that.

Nevins said that although FairPoint’s recent grant application would compete with the Three Ring Binder, the proposed projects are different.

“Ours would go directly to customers,” he said. “The Three Ring Binder doesn’t connect to customers. Theirs is just a middle-mile project.”

Dwight Allison, CEO of Maine Fiber Co., the company formed to oversee construction, maintenance and eventual lease of the Three Ring Binder network, said he is not concerned about FairPoint’s latest request for funds.

“The last-mile project would connect to their own network and-or to the Three Ring Binder. Either way, it would be great for rural Maine,” Allison said in an e-mail. “We believe the Three Ring Binder brings much-needed middle mile capacity to the state of Maine but will require last-mile build-out from our customers. The FairPoint application could be the beginning of this needed build-out.”

FairPoint had been using its control of tens of thousands of Maine’s utility poles to slow the construction of the federally subsidized Three Ring Binder project but recently has relented. A law passed last week that was signed by the governor this week officially green-lighted the Three Ring Binder.

Nevins said he didn’t know when the NTIA would announce which grant applications would be approved under round two of its stimulus funding. FairPoint’s application is one of more than 800 requests across the country, according to www.stimulatingbroadband.com.

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