Part of the Central Maine Power transmission line in Chesterville that would be expanded for the New England Clean Energy Connect project. Livermore Falls Advertiser photo by Pam Harnden

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a special, two-part report is part of a continuing series on poverty in Maine, and the strangling affect poverty has on our communities. We look at how vital broadband accessibility is for our schools, our businesses and our health. The work is being done in cooperation with the Investigative Editing Corps.

If the planned hydropower transmission line between the Canadian border and Lewiston is successfully built, it will include a fiber optic line that communities could access along the 145-mile route through many areas that have lackluster or nonexistent internet.

Gov. Janet Mills said that fiber optic line would be “an incredible asset to the state of Maine.”

The new line would have about 70 spots where communities could tie into it, she said.

In addition, an Avangrid subsidiary called NECEC Transmission, which oversees the $1 billion project, is paying $10 million into a fund to help cover the costs of tying into the new fiber optic line.

Mills said that will pay for a lot of fiber to cover the middle and last miles connecting to homes in underserved areas.

Another part of the hydropower transmission project, which gets less attention, is adding towers between Windsor and Wiscasset that will also have a fiber line included, providing coverage for another area that isn’t well-served with broadband.

Heather Johnson, commissioner of economic and community development, said the new line has an additional benefit.

It gives the entire state a new, distinct connection to the rest of the internet. Since a lot of data flows through Maine as it goes between Europe and Boston, securing a different pathway would improve the whole system’s reliability.

Broadband access along the new power transmission route in western Maine would complement the Three Ring Binder project completed in 2012 that installed a fiber-optic line through many underserved areas of Maine.

The Three Ring Binder lines would intersect with the new transmission corridor in only one place: Farmington. The rest of the proposed addition would venture into new territory for open-access fiber.

Construction has begun on the controversial New England Clean Energy Connect project, but critics are still fighting to stop it in court or at the ballot box.

To read more from this special, two-part report done in cooperation with the Investigative Editing Corps, click here

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