When people at Tilson and the Maine Fiber Company talk about the Three Ring Binder, they aren’t thinking about a folder used to organize loose leaf paper. They are referring to a next-generation IP network built to support broadband communication needs in Northern New England and Upstate New York.
Why “Three Ring Binder?” The dark fiber, middle mile network utilizes an architecture in which each of three rings (one in the Downeast Region, one in Aroostook County, and one in Central to Southern Maine) are linked, but also operate independently.
“Getting crews to the starting line on schedule is one of the biggest challenges for large construction projects,” explained Tilson CEO Josh Broder during a Gigabit Nation podcast. “Before they can begin, you need to wrestle with environmental permitting, work through state and local approval processes and negotiate with utilities and communications providers to get access to the poles and conduits they own,” Broder added.
Network deployments at scale are complex efforts with many moving pieces. While Three Ring Binder is a technology project, it requires ditch digging, utility pole placement and attaching equipment to owned assets – that’s construction. The logistics call for specialized skills and intensive project management. And while it can be taken for granted, negotiating heavy equipment in the hills and costal terrain isn’t easy, especially when minimizing the environmental impact is a requirement written in the grant, which included funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
A key part of Tilson’s strategy was to form a team dedicated to handling the permitting, approvals and permissions. Meanwhile, the Network Deployment team took responsibility for the site acquisition and zoning. With all the pre-construction details buttoned up, Tilson’s field services teams got to work on the make-ready process, construction and, as the last step, making all the connections.
The strategy paid off handsomely: the up-front work enabled construction crews to start on time, and the project was finished months ahead of schedule and under budget.
Today, the 1,100-mile network can serve more than 100 communities, making broadband more readily available to 110,000 households, 600 community anchor institutions, and last mile communications service providers throughout the regions. The 10 Gigabit superhighway allows physicians in rural areas to consult with doctors in Portland, Maine, and mental health therapists to connect with house-bound patients. The University of Maine was able to join the Internet2 community, which streamlines R&D and facilitates collaboration among higher education institutions around the globe.