Anoka County's fiber network nears finish line
- Article by: KRISTIAN HERNANDEZ
- Star Tribune
- August 18, 2012 - 9:48 PM
A fiber optic line in Anoka County that will provide ultra-fast communication and, officials say, eventually give more people access to broadband Internet is heading toward a fall completion.
The $19 million Connect Anoka County project is creating a network that initially will link 145 public institutions in the county. It was started two years ago in collaboration with Zayo Bandwith of Denver to match what officials said was the growing need for reliable high-speed Internet and to connect government databases and servers to a faster private network.
Much of the cost is being covered by a $13.4 million federal grant from the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA); it was approved in 2009 as part of the nationwide federal stimulus package. The rest of the bill is split between Zayo and Anoka County at $2.8 million each.
County Commissioner Jim Kordiak, one of the founders of the project, said one of the County Board's main concerns was to reach underserved citizens.
Debbie Hatton from St. Francis is one. She runs a home textile business that requires an Internet connection, and since she moved into her new home four years ago, her only option has been wireless Internet delivered by a cellphone service provider, she said.
"I have nothing right now that I can do except this tiny wireless router that my husband has beer cans on the antenna trying to boost the signal," she said.
The fiber optic cable will not reach Hatton at her house, four miles from City Hall, but the idea is that private service providers will connect to that municipal backbone and reach out to customers.
During a "last-mile" provider meeting at the end of June, some local service providers showed interest while others voiced opposition to the project.
"They are using federal money to build in a place where private services already exist," said Joanna Hjelmeland, a CenturyLink spokeswoman. Hjelmeland said CenturyLink has invested greatly in infrastructure and services to Anoka County and that the network will turn the county from a customer to a competitor.
A 2011 study by Connect Minnesota, a nonprofit organization working with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, concluded that more than 90 percent of homes in Anoka County already have access to a broadband connection that meets the Federal Communications Commission's minimum requirements of 4 megabits per second.
The 286 miles of fiber optic cable connecting public institutions in Anoka County will provide a connection that is 10 to 500 times faster than that speed, according to the project website and county officials.
At the June meeting, CenturyLink, Comcast, HBC, ip House, tw telecom, U-reka Broadband and Velocity Telephone expressed different levels of interest in providing last-mile services, but no provider has been established.
About 75 percent of the Connect Anoka project is finished, and an October completion date is projected. The network will include government buildings, law enforcement agencies, schools, libraries and emergency response systems. The county doesn't know when homes and businesses will be able to connect.
Heather Phillips, press secretary for the NTIA, said the agency felt that the grant was "truly needed" in Anoka County and that service providers were invited to offer input on the decision.
"These Recovery Act investments are expanding broadband Internet access and adoption in Minnesota, helping residents to better compete in today's global economy and laying the groundwork for sustainable economic growth," said Phillips.
Mark Settle, marketing coordinator at Zayo, estimated that the network will be able to sustain 141,000 households, 11,000 businesses and 600 additional anchor stations.
Anoka County will save approximately $400,000 annually in connectivity services when the network is launched, according to a statement on the project's website. CenturyLink has provided some of these services to Anoka County.
Maps of Anoka County's fiber optic project can be accessed at www.startribune .com/a1649.
Kristian Hernandez 612-673-4217
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