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Middle-Mile Fiber: An Advantage Maine Can Build On

Posted on by Trevor Jones
Three Ring Binder middle-mile fiber being attached to poles in 2012.

As Mainers debate the best approaches to improving broadband access in communities throughout our state, we should take heart in the knowledge that we have an extensive open-access middle-mile fiber network to build on. While there are networks similar to the Three Ring Binder out there, many states are still woefully behind us in building middle mile fiber and ensuring open access to that fiber for all providers. In those states, ISP’s interested in building the last mile find themselves disadvantaged by having to bear high costs for middle-mile transport – costs that often make plans to build in rural areas unworkable.  By contrast, those working on improving broadband in Maine know first-hand that Three Ring Binder fiber is a valuable asset, and that the $25 Million in federal money and $7 million in private funds spent to build it are an important first step in addressing a billion dollar problem with Maine’s aging telecommunications infrastructure.

The Federal grant that funded the Three Ring Binder was aimed mainly at the middle-mile problem. By bridging the gap between large ISP’s and rural communities, the program hoped to enable small ISP’s, community groups, and investors looking to build out better networks at the local level without being beholden to the high costs of transport imposed by the oligopoly of large incumbent providers. Since the network came online two and a half years ago, a number of small regional ISP’s have been doing just that in Maine – building out last-mile networks in un-served and underserved areas throughout the state using the Three Ring Binder’s middle-mile fiber to connect these last mile networks to the Internet.  These ISP’s include Axiom Technologies, Cornerstone Communications, Pioneer Broadband and GWI.

Six Ways GWI Uses Three Ring Binder Middle Mile Fiber

Middle-mile fiber can be used in many ways, and GWI’s own use of the Three Ring Binder exemplifies that.  Here are a few of the ways we’ve been able to put the Three Ring Binder to work for Maine homes and businesses:

  • Building a more reliable network. GWI lit each segment of the Three Ring Binder as it came online, increasing the reliability of service throughout our network due to the physical route diversity that the network’s 3 interlocking rings provides.  Since the network came online in 2012, we’ve been using all 1,100 miles of the network for this purpose.  This means better quality, more reliable service for our customers.
  • Bringing our broadband service to new communities. Also in 2012, we brought GWI Broadband and phone services to nine additional communities: Dover-Foxcroft, Calais, Lincoln, Danforth, Madawaska, Ashland, Dayton, Wiscasset and Bridgton.
  • As the backbone for community broadband. Our FASTfiber gigabit fiber-to-the-home projects in South Portland and Rockport rely on Three Ring Binder fiber to get to our core network.
  • To better connect our wireless customers. We’ve replaced less reliable, slower wireless and copper based back-haul connections at many of our wireless sites in Midcoast Maine with Three Ring Binder middle-mile fiber, including this project in Islesboro.  When the island ultimately builds its own gigabit fiber network, it will be the 3 Ring Binder that connects it to the Internet.
  • Connecting hundreds of Maine businesses. Although the Three Ring Binder was designed for middle-mile purposes like those listed above, we’ve been using it to connect businesses directly when it makes economic sense. In 2014 and 2015 alone, we’ve connected over 200 Maine businesses with Three Ring Binder fiber.
  • For advanced Metro Ethernet networks. We put our 10 gig Metro Ethernet network to use building wide area networks for Maine’s multi-location businesses.  This helps them move data from office to office quickly, economically and affordably.  The combination of the Three Ring Binder’s interlocking ring design and Metro Ethernet’s rapid re-routing of traffic makes this possible.   
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