BRUNSWICK – Seconds count when a person has a stroke. And when a patient arrives at a hospital emergency room with stroke symptoms, doctors need to make a quick diagnosis to start treatment.

Starting next month, doctors at Mid Coast Hospital will be able to rapidly transmit CT scans to neurologists at Maine Medical Center in Portland and have real-time consultations over a secure network called Telestroke.

This advance in telemedicine is an example of the communication benefits expected to come from the Three Ring Binder, a 1,100-mile highway of high-speed Internet lines being strung around Maine.

The first 5 miles of the fiber-optic network are now live along Route 1 here, and Mid Coast Hospital is the first so-called anchor institution to hook up. Workers will be hanging fiber south to Portland and Biddeford, and east to Machias in the coming months.

Within three years, all three “rings” of high-capacity cable will be installed, covering southern, northern and Down East sections of the state. The task will employ 270 workers.

Some of the parties involved in creating the project gathered at the hospital on Friday to celebrate the start of construction.

The real benefits, participants said, will come in the years ahead, in the 100 communities, 600 anchor institutions, 38 government facilities and 110,000 households that will have access to advanced Internet connections.

“It will drive economic development in the state for years to come,” said Dwight Allison, chief executive officer of Maine Fiber Co., which was formed to oversee construction and leasing of the new network.

Three Ring Binder was conceived by state officials, business leaders and telecom companies as a way to build the equivalent of an interstate highway system of fiber-optic cable.

They were able to tap into federal stimulus money aimed at improving broadband Internet access in rural areas.

After a coalition led by Biddeford-based Great Works Internet, or GWI, won a $25.4 million grant last year, investors formed Maine Fiber Co. and contributed an additional $7.5 million to make the project happen.

A partner in Maine Fiber Co. is Robert C.S. Monks, who is an owner and director of Maine- Today Media, which owns The Portland Press Herald.

Three Ring Binder will have the practical effect of shrinking distances in Maine, according to Fletcher Kittredge, chief executive officer of GWI.

On a global scale, it will make Maine a stronger digital pathway for information flowing between Europe and the East Coast of the United States, he said.

Within Maine, it will bring Aroostook and Washington counties closer to centers of commerce.

“This puts Maine in a great place,” he said.

Three Ring Binder also will link campuses of the University of Maine System with a high-speed data network. It will stitch together the state’s far-flung health care providers. And it will give community hospitals such as Mid Coast greater ability to share patient information electronically with area doctors, via a fast, secure connection.

“We have increased our wide area network connectivity speed 10 times over, and at the same time reduced the cost of our infrastructure,” said John Stoy, the hospital’s chief information officer.

 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or [email protected]