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Federal Funding Announced for Rural Broadband in Maine 

The U.S. government announced Thursday the first 180-million dollars to be awarded in federal stimulus money to bring high speed Internet to rural areas across the country.Some of that money is coming to Maine. The U.S. Secretary of Commerce was at the University of Maine Thursday to spread the news. “Twenty-five and a half million dollars of that funding is coming right here to Maine.”U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says the stimulus funds are going to the Three-Ring Binder project, a plan to create a fiber optic network to bring high speed internet to rural and underserved areas of Maine.”The project here in Maine is one of the signature projects. Because it is 1100 miles of fiber optic cable that’s going to be installed. We know that results in jobs,” Locke says.They say it will make broadband available to more than 110-thousand households, passing through 100 communities in the state, with impacts in business, education and healthcare.”This collaborative project will level the playing field,” says Rep. Mike Michaud.The 25 million dollar investment goes to a public-private partnership, led by Biddeford-based GWI and the University of Maine system.”And you have all these internet companies who are lining up to then build out from this big ring, and branching out and connecting to individual doctor’s offices, to businesses and homes. So everyone in the area is going to benefit,” Locke says.The Secretary also visited Eastern Maine Medical Center, where they say broadband access is critical to their telemedicine program, since it connects them in real time to doctors in rural areas.”We can look at the patient with them, while they’re managing the patient, and contribute hopefully positively to the care of that patient,” says Jonathan Wood, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit. “This will make a difference. This is not fluff, this is real.”Officials say they’ll start building on the network this spring.The Three-Ring Binder project is one of 18 projects awarded money Thursday across the country. They’re the first part of the government’s 7.2 billion dollar plan to bring high-speed internet connections to rural areas throughout the country.