Op-Ed: Three-Ring Binder is the first road (July 29, 2012)

As sponsor of legislation to develop high-speed Internet in rural Maine, I am extremely proud of the public-private partnership that created hundreds of jobs in our state. It marks the beginning of a high-tech success story for Maine.

In fact, a recent Portland Press Herald story notes that the project was finished on time and under budget. Now, more than 100 communities from Skowhegan to Perry are connected to an information network fast enough to download a two-hour movie in half a second.

Building this infrastructure — using public money administered by private companies – creates the high-speed Internet’s backbone. The technology will attract businesses and serve 110,000 households, 600 schools, 38 government buildings and scores of libraries and other institutions in rural western, eastern and northern Maine.

The project, dubbed the Three Ring Binder, will open doors to international customers eager to buy Maine products and goods.

It is easy to see how this achievement benefits countless people in Maine. It supports the state’s transition toward a digital future and provides high-tech foundations for our businesses, allowing them to extend their reach beyond the state. It is a wise and prudent investment in our future.

So I was disappointed to see less-than-adequate coverage of such a worthy project in your publication. In last week’s Forecaster, reporter Matt Drange — who apparently splits his time between Maine and California – didn’t visit the areas of rural Maine or talk to real Maine people. He didn’t see where once-dark computer connections now bustle with the ability to muster global commerce. There were other lapses, but here’s the bottom line: He missed the news.

And so, Drange wrote that the project’s impact on Maine jobs is “largely premature.”

It is not. But his reporting surely was.

Many of the jobs created were temporary — some were not. At a time of extreme job loss in rural Maine, we all hope those seedlings will take root and help produce thousands of permanent jobs. But this kind of economic change does not occur overnight. It is like developing a new neighborhood before you have built the first road.

This is the first road.

I am proud that two of my job-creating bills were approved by the Legislature. We created the Broadband Strategy Council, which built a path for numerous Maine projects to get stimulus money. We also approved the first-in-the-nation “Dark Fiber” bill, which allows fiber optic cables to be strung on 1,100 miles of telephone poles.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently declared the Three Ring Binder the “best business infrastructure project in the country.”

It remains a positive, high-wage job creator for Maine. And it has the potential to turn some of Maine’s 20th-century infrastructures into the cyber infrastructure of the 21st century.

At a time when Maine’s economy continues to lag in job creation, the Three Ring Binder project is an achievement we should all celebrate. It is one that I plan to build upon as Maine’s next U.S. senator.

State Sen. Cynthia Dill is the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate from Maine.


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