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'Dark Fiber' Holding City Back in Broadband Efforts

August 07, 2014

'Dark Fiber' Holding City Back in Broadband Efforts

By Dan Latu
Contributing Writer

“Dark fiber” may be hampering the efforts of Columbia, MO and surrounding Boone County to attract tech-savvy professionals and businesses to the area.

According to Magellan (News - Alert) Advisors LLC, a Denver-based telecom consulting firm hired by the city, the Department of Water and Light’s current broadband infrastructure is failing to adequately provide for the area. The “dark fiber” optics network relies on a relay system between the facilities of the department and the City Hall control center. About 30 institutions, including hospitals and businesses, enter into lease agreements with the Water and Light Department that raises revenue for the city. However, these networks do not provide actual Internet services; instead they just provide the infrastructure for it. The Director of the Water and Light Department, Tad Johnson, said the revenues generated cover the whole cost of the dark fiber optics network.

Magellan recommended for the city that they invest in creating “lit” fiber optics network. These networks would convert the existing broadband into an open-access with full Internet service. Availability and affordability of broadband in the city would create new communications platform for municipal governments as well as new businesses. “Severe downtime experiences” and other issues with existing private networks would be completely eliminated.

A spokesman for Carfax, a company that operates in Boone County, detailed how because of massive broadband delays and failures with current private providers, they have had to outsource their data maintenance. Outsourcing to another firm incurred unwanted costs, but was necessary to allow Carfax to “focus more on the services and products we offer,” said the spokesman Chris Basso.

Magellan also proposed public-private enterprises for broadband systems in the area that would capitalize on the “lit” network. Service providers would partner with the Water and Light Department, which would remain a neutral party, increasing competition that would then raise standards.

Recommended was an open-access network with “scalable” broadband service, ranging from 1 gigabit to 10 gigabit of service.

Assistant Water and Light Director Ryan Williams agreed with Magellan’s proposal but stressed the city needs to further study the plans before proceeding with changes. One example he mentioned, is the responsibility of managing an open-access network would prompt the creation of a new city department. Water and Light employees do not currently have experience with managing a broadband business unit, instead only with installing the infrastructure.

Williams said the Magellan study was due to be presented at the Aug. 18 meeting. He expressed hope that the city would allow Water and Light to further explore the study and develop potential strategies for the city. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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