SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The Biddeford-based Great Works Internet won a deal to install high-speed fiber optic Internet connecting municipal buildings in South Portland, beating out a company with which it recently settled a months-long legal dispute.
Through the deal with South Portland, GWI will build what CEO Fletcher Kittredge called a “backbone” network that can branch off to connect businesses and residences, starting around the Mill Creek shopping center and along Highland Avenue.
South Portland is, so far, the largest city to sign on with GWI for what Kittredge said is a new model of building out fiber optic networks in the state. That model involves the city committing to be an anchor tenant for the network buildout paid for by GWI.
Kittredge said during a media event Monday that the company will pay for almost half of the nearly $300,000 investment in fiber and associated equipment through a roughly $150,000 up-front payment for 20 years of service.
“[Having an anchor tenant] means that we can build [the network] and have a good sense we’re going to make money on it,” Kittredge said.
The company will seek to bring in additional revenue by signing on residential customers for about $70 per month and business customers for about $200 per month.
The company has announced publicly that it also is in talks with towns — including Old Town, Orono and Sanford — about similar arrangements. Kittredge said there are others where preliminary talks are moving ahead.
He said the company’s has not yet spoken with officials across the bridge in Portland about a municipally supported fiber optic network.
For the contract in South Portland, GWI was up against one competing bidder, Maine Fiber Co., the company created to manage a federal grant to build a massive fiber optic cable network across the state. GWI sued Maine Fiber Co. earlier this year, and in June, the dispute was settled in which GWI claimed Maine Fiber owed it about $3.7 million.
Mark Robinson, a spokesman for GWI, said the settlement “probably makes projects like Rockport [which entered into a similar agreement] and South Portland a little easier to bring to the finish line” and that the two companies could work together on future projects.
In August, GWI unveiled its first completed municipal fiber project in Rockport, aboard 1.6 miles of fiber optic cable. The South Portland project will use four miles of cable in its first phase and is scheduled for completion in the spring.
Chris Dumais, the city’s information technology director, said the arrangement with GWI will allow it to drop a $2,000-per-month lease cost it has for its current fiber network provider and will open that network to other companies in case other providers want to build out service from that backbone cable. And after installation, Dumais said that the city will share in about 5 percent of the revenue from the business and residential customers GWI signs up.
Jerry Jalbert, the city’s mayor, said he views the the investment as a “very, very important step” for the city to attract and retain residents and businesses.
GWI has been involved in other efforts to expand fiber optic networks through rural parts of the state as well. The company in March submitted an expression of interest in a rural broadband experiment program through the Federal Communications Commission, proposing to bring fiber optic connections to some of the islands off Maine’s coast.
It was not successful in that effort, but the company’s government relations liaison, Colin Haley, said the company is continuing discussions with state regulators to see if there might be other grant funding available for similar fiber optic network expansions.