OTELCO Truck. Credit: Courtesy of OTELCO

Internet service is now available to residents and businesses in parts of Orono and Old Town, following the activation of the first part of a municipal internet network that has been a decade in the making.

The internet service provider OTELCO said Monday it had activated a 6-mile portion of a high-speed internet network that eventually is supposed to stretch throughout Orono and Old Town. The initial 6-mile portion can serve about 400 locations, and the company began fielding orders from and installing equipment for the first subscribers last week.

OTO Fiber Corp. — a joint venture between Old Town, Orono and the University of Maine — has been working to improve the access to ultra-high-speed broadband for businesses and residents of Old Town and Orono for the last 10 years. The group signed a contract with telecommunications company OTELCO in June to provide internet to the communities.

While this project has been in the works for a decade, the global pandemic forced more Mainers to use the internet for work and school, stressing networks in the state and making clear the need for better service in parts of Maine.

Under the June agreement, OTELCO was to begin offering service this fall. OTELCO has also agreed to build approximately 49 miles more of a network that will serve an additional 3,550 locations in the two communities by summer 2022.

In this initial phase, the Orono part of the network begins on Kelley Road, then splits off onto Old Kelley Avenue and heads north on Route 2, where it ends on Bennoch Road. The Old Town portion of the network picks up on Stillwater Avenue near Mahan’s Redemption Center, breaks off onto Center Street, loops around the post office, and reconnects with Stillwater near Tim’s Little Big Store. It then circles part of downtown Main Street.

OTO Fiber is not the only municipal fiber internet program in the state. Other municipalities, including Argyle and Sanford, have already started and completed similar town-wide fiber networks.

OTO Fiber started in 2012 when the group attempted to set up a  Gigabit Main Street network that was a part of a fiber-optic service known as Gig. U — a nationwide program that aimed to bring high-speed internet to research universities and surrounding communities.

At the time, Biddeford-based internet and telephone company GWI offered to build and provide service to the network, but the plan didn’t pan out.

In 2015, OTO Fiber was dealt another blow after Time Warner challenged the issuing of a $125,000 grant through ConnectME Authority to help fund the project.

The project did receive a $250,000 Northern Border Regional Commission grant in 2015, which the two communities combined with their own $225,000 investment when the project started.

The group issued a request for proposals last December and by early February, it had selected a finalist to start contract negotiations. OTELCO will pay for and own the drops as part of the final contract. Drops are the connections from the main fiber network lines to individual businesses or homes that receive service through the network.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...