A $25.4 million federal stimulus grant announced Thursday will be used to build a 1,100-mile fiber optic network connecting the far reaches of Maine, bringing high-speed Internet to thousands of people like Jim Fisher who can't get broadband service through cable or phone lines.
Fisher, who designs and maintains Web sites for several nonprofits in his spare time, said there's no high-speed Internet in the part of Blue Hill where he lives. And his satellite-based service goes out in bad weather, including fog, rain and snow, forcing him to go "skulking" about town looking for a wireless Internet connection.
"I have to go to the library. I go to the town office _ anywhere I can find broadband that's better than at home," said Fisher, senior planner of the Hancock County Planning Commission.
On Thursday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke visited the University of Maine to tout federal stimulus funding for the so-called "Three Ring Binder" project, which represents a fiber-optic foundation for broadband Internet service connecting rural western, eastern and northern Maine.
"This project and the private investment it will spur has the potential to connect one-fifth of Maine households to this 21st-century Internet backbone," Locke said.
The Maine grant was one of 18 nationwide that were announced Thursday to expand high-speed Internet to communities that have little or no access.
Great Works Internet, a Biddeford-based telecommunications company, heads up the Maine project, which is a collaborative effort among several telecommunications companies, the University of Maine System and other institutions.
The work will be funded through a combination of the federal stimulus grant and private funding. The total project cost is estimated at $32.5 million.
Early work has already begun, and construction is scheduled to start next spring. Part of the system could be ready to use by the end of 2010, and the whole thing is expected to be finished within 2 1/2 years.
The project is called the "Three Ring Binder" because it consists of three "rings" of transmission lines _ in western, eastern and northern Maine. The network will act as an Internet superhighway, with feeder lines linking it to end users.
The project initially will create construction jobs and benefit Maine businesses and institutions in the long-term, said Gov. John Baldacci. When completed, it will allow University of Maine students to take courses from other universities around the world and doctors at Eastern Maine Medical Center to diagnose patients hundreds of miles away.
"To realize opportunities and grow jobs, we need to ensure Mainers have access to he latest technology, including high-speed broadband connections," Baldacci said.
AP reporter David Sharp contributed to this report.