broadband cable

Maryland lights up new broadband network

Maryland has completed an 800-mile addition to its high-speed statewide network, lighting up the Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN) on Oct. 7 to link more than 1,000 schools, government offices and public safety operations.

The ICBN, built with the help of a federal Recovery Act grant, is part of the 1,000-mile One Maryland network and consists of 216 fiber optic strands with what Howard County CIO Chris Merdon said is essentially unlimited capacity. “If we see any limits, we can upgrade and add new hardware to it.”

The network initially is offering low-cost, high-speed connectivity for state and local government, but unused capacity will be leased to businesses as an economic development tool. In Howard County, the lead jurisdiction for the project, the network is being used for county Internet and telephone service.

“Initially we are using it as a cost-savings tool,” Merdon said. “We estimate that we will be able to save about $500,000 to $600,000 a year” by replacing circuits from commercial providers.

He said he did not see the ICBN in competition with commercial carriers. “We use the private sector to provide services we cannot provide ourselves,” he said. “If we can do it at a cheaper rate, then the taxpayer benefits. That makes economic sense.”

The new network passes 71,000 businesses and 1.8 million households in 42,000 square miles of Central Maryland. The 1,070 anchor institutions connected to the network include 450 K-12 schools, 15 community colleges and six other colleges. Howard County took the lead in applying for the $115 million grant under the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and chairs the nine-jurisdiction committee overseeing ICBN. The other jurisdictions are the City of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. State and local governments contributed $45 million to the project.

Although its initial use is saving money on existing services, there are projects in the offing that could provide new services and functionality, Merdon said.

“Some of the low-hanging fruit is in public safety,” he said. One of the early projects is expected to be establishing a second county 911 call center for the southern half of Howard County that would act as a back-up if operations in the primary center are disrupted. Another early project is expected to be providing 1 gigabyte-per-second Internet connections to two county-owned, low-income housing facilities.

The network could also provide real-time visibility of surveillance cameras in schools. A number of school buildings already have IP cameras that could be linked to the network. Other schools would need to have their existing cameras upgraded or new cameras added to the network. It also could contribute to intelligent transportation by linking weather and traffic sensors on roadways so that resources could be more intelligently deployed.

“The network is 75 percent of what is needed to make all of the other things run,” Merdon said. Adding cameras, sensors and other endpoint equipment would be relatively inexpensive.

The network also could enable greater cooperation by state and local jurisdictions through information sharing and by allowing one county to offer services to others, according to Merdon. With a common backbone, one county could provide network operations centers for several other countries, and multiple counties could band together to take advantage of volume discounts on cloud services.

One Maryland: ICBN from One Maryland: ICBN on Vimeo.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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