The Washington Post

Installation begins on broadband network across central Md.

Vice President Biden, along with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), discusses the administration's plan to develop and deploy a "nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network.” (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Construction crews began to install a miles-long broadband network across central Maryland last week, though the portion of the network designated for business and residential use has yet to be leased.

The installation is part of a statewide initiative that will see fiber-optic cables laid across every county by 2013 thanks to a $115 million federal stimulus grant and $43 million in state and local money.

The federal money comes as part of the Obama administration’s national broadband plan, which aims to connect communities not served by Internet providers. The infrastructure costs to reach those areas are typically deemed too great by private companies.

Half of the network will connect schools, health centers, police stations, libraries and other “community anchors” on high-capacity Internet cables that are better equipped to transmit large gulps of data.

The remaining fiber will be inactive until Internet providers, private companies or nongovernmental institutions lease portions of the network and make it available to households and businesses.

“We want to serve as the catalyst for getting to those businesses, business parks and residential neighborhoods that are underserved,” said Ira Levy, director of Howard County’s technology and communication services department. “The government is not at this time lighting the network for those industries.”

The leasing process comes with complications of its own as the network traverses multiple jurisdictions, raising questions about who will authorize leases and how profits will be shared. Levy said that should be settled by summer’s end.

“We’re working on those pieces right now and we hope to have it available in the next few months,” he said. “Our routes are defined, and that’s what we’re talking to the different companies about [now].”

Indeed, there may already be prospective lessees. Levy said discussions are underway with Johns Hopkins University, as well as broadband service providers TW Telecom, AboveNet and Freedom Wireless.

Howard County will spearhead the Inter-County Broadband Network, the portion of the project that covers the cities of Baltimore and Annapolis, as well as Harford, Carroll, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Montgomery, Howard and Prince George’s counties.

Levy estimates the project could save as much as $30 million per year across the 10 jurisdictions because of the potential to share resources and eliminate old infrastructure.

The Maryland Broadband Cooperative will helm the second portion of the project, which includes the state’s more rural counties in the north, south and along the Eastern Shore.

In all, the projects will connect just more than 1,000 community sites and could create more than 2,000 jobs over three years.

Steven Overly is a national reporter covering federal technology and energy policy with a focus on Capitol Hill. He previously covered the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital.



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