SANFORD, Maine — Local business and municipal leaders are welcoming plans to build a major broadband network in this southern Maine city.
According to an announcement made Monday at the broadband summit in Portland, the network will be the state's biggest by far and is expected to provide a significant economic boost to the formerly booming mill town.
The City of Sanford is Maine's seventh largest community, but when it comes to broadband it clearly has its eyes on being No. 1.
"We're here today to let you know that we're planning a 32-mile construction project," says Jim Nimon, executive director of the Sanford Economic Growth Council.
He says that 32-mile network — which is expected to be partially completed by the end of next year — will give Sanford a broadband system eight times larger than the next biggest municipal network in Maine.
He says it's also the first major new fiber loop to be added to the 3-Ring Binder project, a statewide, federally backed network launched three years ago to serve the state's more isolated, rural communities with high-speed Internet.
And although the Sanford project is a municipal network, Nimon says private businesses will play an essential role.
"We expect to have the private sector playing a key role for us in terms of the construction and the operation of the network," he says.
"I'm really excited about this project," says Fletcher Kitteridge, chief executive of GWI, a Biddeford-based Internet services provider that along with New Hampshire-based NextGen Telecom Services is building and operating the network. "It's different than anything that's been done in Maine so far."
Kitteridge says there are other Maine communities with their own fiber networks, but they're not like Sanford.
"This answers the question: What will happen to towns that aren't connected to the 3-Ring Binder?" he says.
Sanford officials say this network will be "open access" and "mixed use," meaning it will be available to business and residential customers alike, and that any service provider can use it for a fee.
City manager Steve Buck says the network will also be able to accommodate other communities along the route, such as Wells, Kennebunk and Alfred.
As for Sanford itself, Buck says the plan is to make use of the large amount of industrial space available there.
"Sanford used to be a large industrial base via its textiles," he says. "We have over 2 million square feet of textile space that's yet to be reoccupied."
Buck hopes the new broadband network will attract fresh commerce to the community and help fill this empty space.
The project, which will cost $1.5 million to set up. is projected to generate between $47 million and $192 million in economic output over a 10-year period.