Sanford, Maine’s plan to build a municipal open access fiber-optic network just got the shot in the arm it needs to move forward. On September 27th, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded the community $769,000 in grant funding to complete the $1.5 million project.
Mightiest Muni In Maine
About a year ago, we shared details about the plan to deploy what will be the largest publicly owned fiber-optic network in the state. The 45-mile network will run through Sanford, but will also travel through Alford, Kennebunk, and Wells and will connect to Maine’s statewide network, the Three Ring Binder. “We’re creating the fourth ring on the 3-Ring Binder,” said City Manager Steve Buck, in a recent Journal Tribune article.
The city of Sanford will own the infrastructure and GWI, headquartered in Biddeford, will operate the network. GWI does not have an exclusive agreement, so other providers could also offer Internet access or other data services over the infrastructure. For the time being, the network will serve primarily community anchor institutions (CAIs), government facilities, and business customers.
GWI also intends to offer residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to properties along the fiber route in areas where there is sufficient demand. They will make Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) symmetrical connectivity available so speeds will be the same for download and upload. Other providers may use the backbone to offer similar services; the backbone will have 10 Gigabit symmetrical capacity.
Economic Development Needed
For the time being, serving businesses and boosting economic development are the main priorities. Sanford has a history in textiles and manufacturing, with the population stagnating around 20,000 over the past two decades. Community leaders hope to diversify the economy by encouraging entrepreneurship and help Sanford grow. The network will serve downtown's Mill Yard complex, a 600-acre industrial park, and at least 80 additional sites including the Southern Maine Health Care (SMHC) Goodall Campus, local schools, and a new technical center, now under construction.
The EDA grant will fund approximately half of the cost of the project. Sanford will pay for the remainder with proceeds from a recent sale of a retired school property. They had considered using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) in the past, and have not completely ruled out the possibility, but the EDA grant provides secured funding that may eliminate the need to consider TIF.
More Information Available
Sanford officials hope to begin construction next spring and estimate the project will be complete within 12 months. You can learn more details about the SanfordNet Fiber project from their new fact sheet.
For more on Sanford and municipal networks in Maine, check out episode #176 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher talks with Fletcher Kittredge from GWI, who describes Sanford, and also discusses some other projects in Maine, including the Tree Ring Binder.