BRUNSWICK, Maine — Maine Fiber Co. today announced the completion of the Three Ring Binder project, the construction of a statewide fiber-optic backbone that will provide economic development opportunities and has the potential to bring broadband Internet service to some of the most rural communities in the state.

The 1,100-mile fiber-optic network was completed ahead-of-schedule and on budget, Dwight Allison, CEO of Maine Fiber, told the audience gathered at Oxford Networks’ data center, located in a former Navy building in Brunswick Landing. The network runs from York County to Calais and Presque Isle, and is connected to 30,000 telephone poles along the way, Allison said.

Allison said there were already 12 customers leasing fiber on the network and another 29 contracts in the works.

Customers include telecommunication companies such as Biddeford-based GWI, Oxford Networks, Axiom Technologies in Machias, and Pioneer Broadband in Houlton; the University of Maine; Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick; as well as municipalities such as the towns of Scarborough and Greenwood.

Whereas the existing fiber-optic networks in the state were owned privately by companies such as FairPoint Communications, Maine Fiber built what’s known as an open network, which means anyone is able to lease the fiber.

That open availability of fiber will drive innovation and economic development in the state, Allison said. “We built a highway through the state and said as long as you pay the toll anybody can get on this,” he said. “That means more competition, more startups. You can start a GWI-type of company now and have, in essence, a $30 million fiber network at your disposal without having to write out a $30 million check.”

It will not only help existing Maine businesses grow, it also has the opportunity to attract more businesses to the state. Tim McAfee, CEO of Pioneer Broadband, told the Bangor Daily News a cloud computing company is considering leasing space at the Loring Commerce Center, something that would have been impossible a few years ago. Maine Fiber, though, built the fiber backbone right through the middle of the commerce center, which allows Pioneer Broadband to offer broadband to every business there.

The commerce center is “entertaining cloud computing companies looking for 10 gigabits-per-second service because I can make that available, where I couldn’t before,” he said. “Who knows if this cloud computing will come, but the fact they’re talking with the Loring Commerce Center is huge, because they would have been out in the first meeting two years ago because there wasn’t 10-gigabit service available.”

The fiber network also will allow Pioneer to bring broadband service to some rural communities, such as Big Lake Township, that would never had access otherwise. The response from Maine’s rural communities to his company’s services has been enthusiastic, McAfee said. “One lady said, ‘I’m going to bake us a cake.’ One lady just hugged me,” he said. “It’s amazing. It’s that powerful for them because they didn’t have an option before.”

Also attending the event were U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, State Sen. Cynthia Dill and George Gervais, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

The new fiber network “allows more companies in the state to access the rest of the world, and nothing but opportunity can come of that,” Gervais told the BDN. “And it brings rural Maine closer to the high population centers, both in Maine and outside of Maine.”

Allison said Maine Fiber Co. plans to continue to work on connecting its fiber network with those in neighboring New Hampshire, which it plans to do in 2013. Last week, the company completed a connection between its fiber network in Calais and one in New Brunswick.

Whit Richardson

Whit Richardson is Business Editor at the Bangor Daily News. He blogs about Maine business, entrepreneurs and the economy.