To be competitive in a 2012 economy, Maine must have an Internet infrastructure capable of quickly sending large amounts of data. The Internet is made up of many intangible networks of networks, but it needs physical elements, such as wires or cables, to support its existence.

Now, because of the recently completed Three Ring Binder project, Maine has Internet components similar to those in Manhattan or Boston. Its 1,100 miles of fiber-optic cable, attached to telephone poles, turn three big loops throughout the state and make it possible for Internet service providers to connect households and businesses.

Improving broadband Internet service in urban and rural areas will not just make it easier for people to view Netflix films or upload YouTube videos. The broadband signal has greater bandwidth and, therefore, greater capacity for traffic. A speedier, more reliable Internet helps businesses, banks, schools — anyone who relies on the Internet for his or her livelihood — to be more productive. And it makes the state more attractive to outside investors.

The network will now reach some areas that before only had satellite Internet access (which can have a problem with delay that makes it difficult to use videos or Skype). Some parts of Maine will get broadband for the first time. Plus, the network will create additional competition and may drive down the cost of transporting wholesale Internet access. It will also be more reliable than current options because, if the fiber is accidentally severed, it is able to reverse the data flow and continue providing access.

Making it easier for people to connect can only be a good thing for enterprise. According to Google’s Director of Marketing Scott Levitan, 59 percent of Maine businesses don’t have a website, even though 97 percent of consumers look online for local products and services.

Supplying more bandwidth, reaching new areas and enhancing reliability could draw businesses and boost those struggling with slow Internet access. But now Maine Fiber Co. — which installed the fiber — has to spread the word. It will take time to change the perceptions of people outside the state who might not be aware that broadband now reaches Skowhegan or Wiscasset.

In return, Internet service providers must connect communities to the network. Economic development directors must stimulate demand from businesses and residents. Residents can contact service providers that have partnered with Maine Fiber to see what areas they serve. Because it’s an open network, entities — a hospital, town, school — can lease directly from Maine Fiber. (It’s already being done by Scarborough, Greenwood and the University of Maine).

Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and private investors, the Three Ring Binder project has the capability of providing Mainers the Internet access they need to compete. Technology doesn’t stand still, and Maine will need to continually adapt and measure outcomes, but this is an accomplishment of which people across the state should take advantage.