A planned broadband cable that would run through rural areas of western Maine promises to bring high-speed internet access to large, underserved areas of the state, but it could take awhile.
The broadband cable would be strung as part of the controversial New England Clean Energy Connect, or NECEC, hydropower project by Central Maine Power and Hydro-Quebec that would run from Canada to Lewiston. The NECEC project still must gain key permits and approvals, which developers hope will happen by the end of this year.
If the NECEC gets the go-ahead from all parties, it would become operational in 2022, which, as planned, is when the broadband also would be ready for use. The hydroelectric project would use some strands of the broadband fiber for operations, with the rest available to communities that abut it.
CMP already has laid out its vision of how the towns along the corridor would tap into the cable, along with options for how they could pay for those connections.
“This project has a strategic role. It is running through major areas where the state doesn’t have fiber-optic broadband,” said Thorn Dickinson, vice president of business development at Avangrid, CMP’s parent company.
Underserved areas include the Forks and large parts of Androscoggin and Somerset counties, where opposition to the controversial plan has been strongest. The project’s developers included money for rural broadband upgrades as part of a sweetened benefits package that swayed Gov. Janet Mills, Public Advocate Barry Hobbins and some environmental groups to support NECEC.
Not a ‘profit center’
Dickinson said the company is willing to negotiate with towns on how to connect to the network.
“We’re not interested in this being a profit center for the [NECEC] project or in getting money back,” he said. “We want this to be an asset to the people of Maine.”
The broadband cable also would run along a new transmission pathway from Windsor to Wiscasset and a rebuilt transmission line from Lewiston to Pownal.
A broadband network consists of a main fiber-optic backbone transmission line, a “middle mile” portion to which internet service providers connect their own networks and a “last mile” portion in which internet companies connect their network to homes and businesses.