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February 19, 2018 From the Editor

Maine's rural businesses struggle to connect

The Three Ring Binder is a term that's been bandied about for some time in Maine.

A public-private effort costing $32 million, the Three Ring Binder was launched to “create an open-access fiberoptic network that extends into the most rural and disadvantaged areas of the state of Maine; from the Saint John Valley in the north, to the rocky coast line of downeast Maine, to the mountainous regions of western Maine,” according to a state press release at the time.

When it was launched, organizers proclaimed that the three rings of fiberoptic networks “will create the 21st century infrastructure necessary to support Maine's existing industries,”

Indeed, in 2012, the Portland Press Herald reported that the Three Ring Binder had been completed six months ahead of schedule, connecting 110,000 households, 600 schools and 38 government facilities.

There's no question the network was a huge leap forward for Maine.

Yet there still lingered the notion that some residents were somewhere beyond “the last mile” of the network.

As Staff Writer Maureen Milliken reports from Farmington, gaps in the broadband network still exist and, now more than ever, create a deeper division for businesses. (See Page 21.)

With broadband still out of reach of some, she reports, businesses struggle to stay connected with clients. Students who can't get internet service at home are studying at McDonald's. Realtors are finding that homes without available internet are quickly rejected by potential buyers.

Since the substantial investment at the front end of the Three Ring Binder project, money for rural broadband has come in smaller parcels. The congressional delegation continues to push for investment to create networks in rural areas, but rural municipalities are finding that they're often in the position of having to finance or build their own networks, at considerable cost.

As Maureen reports, it's a slow process, but progress is being made.

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