Augusta area among 150,000 Maine homes to get fiber internet service
Consolidated Communications is building Maine’s largest fiber-optic Internet network and said it plans to offer connections to tens of thousands of homes and businesses by the end of the year.
The telecommunications company is laying fiber optic cables in some of the most densely populated areas of the state, intensifying its competition with cable companies that dominate Maine’s home internet market.
“Historically, Maine hasn’t had many fiber-to-the-home deployments and we’re excited to change that,” said Erik Garr, president of Consolidated’s consumer-small business unit, in an interview.
The company plans to bring fiber optic Internet service to 150,000 Maine homes and businesses by the end of 2022. It is building networks in Portland, Biddeford-Saco, the Augusta area, Rockland, Waterville, Falmouth and Bangor.
The goal is a comprehensive network covering nearly all customers in Consolidated’s targeted communities, Garr said.
“My experience, having built these networks a lot, it’s always hard to get to the last house,” he said. “Our intention is to build the majority of the homes that are in our service territory in these cities.”
Consolidated’s Maine plan is part of the company’s overall transition to become a major fiber optic Internet service provider. Fiber optic cables reliably transport large amounts of information at incredibly fast speeds.
In 2020, the company secured $425 million from a private investment company to accelerate the construction of high-speed internet. The following year, Consolidated launched Fidium, its internet service brand, and expanded its service to 330,000 locations in the United States, according to its annual shareholder report. The company plans 400,000 more connections in 2022 and 1.6 million locations by 2026. More construction in Maine is expected in the coming years.
Consolidated is advertising gigabit-per-second connections for an introductory price of $70 per month, including equipment for home Wi-Fi networks, slightly cheaper than the rates offered by cable brands Spectrum and Xfinity. After the one-year introductory period, Consolidated’s monthly price increases to $95 per month.
Gigabit speed is 1,000 times faster than one megabit per second and is considered fast enough for multiple devices to simultaneously perform 4K resolution video streaming, online gaming, and other high-bandwidth uses.
“We don’t think there’s a comparable product in northern New England,” Garr said. “We often hear customers say that they are not necessarily satisfied with the service they receive. The combination of a fiber network that has not been offered for sale in Maine to date and a very good customer experience is going to be really powerful.
Smaller internet service providers, including Great Works Internet, or GWI, Pioneer Broadband and Otelco, already provide fiber optic service to homes in limited areas of Maine, often as part of municipal broadband projects.
Still, the consolidated expansion will be a major shake-up in Maine’s internet market, said Peggy Schaffer, executive director of ConnectMaine, a government agency dedicated to universal broadband in the state.
Many of the areas Consolidated is targeting already have high-speed Internet service and are therefore not eligible to use state or federal money to expand fiber optic service, Schaffer said. Despite the availability of high-speed internet, reliability and affordability remain concerns, and there is pent-up consumer demand for fiber to the home.
“In many of these markets, they’re head-to-head with competitors, including cable companies,” Schaffer said. “The fiber connections they install are of high quality, with low latency. Competition will help reduce costs.
Consolidated — formerly FairPoint Communications — is the state’s largest telecommunications company and has an existing landline phone network, she said. This means that the company can quickly install new fiber optic lines.
“They have a cost advantage and a time advantage because they own the poles, and they’re already there,” Schaffer said.
The expansion is privately funded, although Consolidated is a federal grant partner to install fiber internet in Rangeley, Farmington and Blue Hill. Maine has set aside about $250 million to bring broadband service to underserved areas of the state.
Consolidated’s expansion could also help with that mission, Schaffer said. As the company’s fiber optic footprint expands, it may seem a bit farther to connect areas it otherwise wouldn’t have considered, she said.
“It’s a bonus for all of us,” Schaffer said. “We are very excited about this.”
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