OLD TOWN, Maine — City leaders took another step forward in connecting local residents and businesses to the state’s open 1,100-mile fiber optic cable infrastructure project known as the “Three Ring Binder” by moving forward with plans to spend $80,000 to add three miles of connecting fiber.
Current “upload speeds are abysmal,” Bruce Segee, University of Maine professor of electrical and computer engineering, told the finance committee Wednesday night.
The Old Town-Orono Fiber LLC was created in partnership with the University of Maine to bring high-speed internet to the entire region, and recently learned it was given a $250,000 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission to help create the fiber optic network.
The Northern Border Regional Commission is a federal-state partnership that was created by Congress in 2008 in order to help alleviate economic distress and encourage private sector job creation throughout the northern counties of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.
“The installation of high-speed fiber has been a goal for a number of years,” Ron Harriman, the city’s economic development director, told the subcommittee. “The funds will be used to install three miles of fiber in Old Town and three miles in Orono.”
“We think this will give Old Town [and Orono] a competitive edge,” he said later.
The Old Town portion would add high speed internet fiber — capable of handling 1 gigabit of data per second — along Main Street and Stillwater Avenue that would connect to Orono’s planned route along Bennoch Road and into the town’s downtown, Segee said
“The hope is from there additional miles get built to penetrate the neighbors,” he said.
The money was allocated last year but was never used, City Manager Bill Mayo told the group. The finance committee voted to forward the plans to the full council for consideration.
Current standard broadband speeds in the area average around 8,000 kilobits per second — one gigabit is equal to 1 million kilobits.
The plans call for utilizing the vacant Temple Israel synagogue, last used in the 1980s, as a hub for the fiber that can be used by the Internet providers, Segee said.
“There could be six to a dozen different providers that could all have equipment in that space,” he said.
“The ultimate hope, the goal, is to have inexpensive gigabyte service to homes and businesses,” Segee said.
During the meeting, the panel also agreed to forward the following to the full City Council:
— A recommendation by police Chief Scott Wilcox to accept a $125,000 Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Grant to fund a school resource officer. Wilcox said the school department has agreed to split the cost for all four years of the grant.
— A recommendation by Harriman to spend $10,000 for a commercial appraisal of the Forest Bio-products Research Initiative, which is part of the Expera Old Town mill that is closing by year’s end.
“We want to provide protections for them,” Harriman said. “We want to keep them here. It’s really cutting-edge stuff.”