Maryland strikes dark fiber deal to improve access to Ashburn
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Jun 21, 2016
A resource-sharing agreement that dark fiber provider USA Fiber and the state of Maryland signed last month will connect Baltimore with Ashburn, Va., along a direct line under the Potomac River, enabling the state to offer new levels of connectivity and security.
The Ashburn Express cable system will bypass the Interstate 95 corridor, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Amtrak and Washington, D.C. What’s unique about the resourcing agreement, which lets USA Fiber own and operate its infrastructure connecting Virginia to Maryland underneath the Maryland-controlled Potomac, is that the company is connecting two key interconnection points in two states without the need for an optical region. This means customers can have equipment in either state and access all the cloud applications directly without needing a carrier to transport their services.
“Our customers are able to grow and scale their communication needs and requirements on their own terms using dedicated dark fiber as opposed to buying a managed service from a third party,” Judd Carothers, chief operating officer at USA Fiber, said.
This is especially significant for Maryland’s Montgomery County, which sits roughly across the river from Ashburn, because 90 percent of the internet traffic on the East Coast flows through Ashburn data centers, said Mitsuko Herrera, ultraMontgomery director at the county’s Department of Technology Services.
UltraMontgomery is part of County Executive Ike Leggett’s Six-Point Economic Plan to enhance connectivity and economic development while lowering infrastructure deployment costs and creating public/private partnerships.
“While we have fiber connections to Ashburn, they are more circuitous,” Herrera said. “Building a route that flows directly as the crow flies for technical reasons reduces latency. It allows you to move signals with less regeneration, and as more people move to more-capacity data -- higher-gigabit, 100-gigabit types -- it facilitates that.”
“We see that it’s very important for the growth of Montgomery County and the biotech, cybersecurity, financial industry jobs," she said, "and we also see that it’s a boon for the local data centers that are located within Montgomery County because now you can install your gear locally where it’s easier for you to access, but you can have the kind of connectivity that’s as if you had your gear installed in Ashburn.”
Currently, most telecommunication carriers’ networks go from Maryland through D.C. and out through Northern Virginia to Ashburn. “Our route bypasses the District and provides that direct connection without a need for any type of regeneration of signal between Baltimore and Ashburn,” USA Fiber' Carothers said. “You don’t need to have anything other than a dedicated pair of our fiber to get connectivity from your businesses in Maryland to your cloud and internet applications that reside in Ashburn.”
The cables are made up of multiple 432 fiber-pairs, each of which can transmit wavelengths at 100 gigabytes or more per second. “It would be foolish to think that cable sizes don’t increase over time, so right now we’re installing a single 864-count cable between Ashburn and Baltimore and as that fiber becomes utilized, we’ll continue to install incremental cables, which could be larger than an 864,” Carothers added.
So far, USA Fiber has finished the 7.2-mile ring around the Ashburn data centers and is continuing its march toward the river. Carothers said the plan is to be in Baltimore early next year.
Montgomery County estimated that it would have cost about $12 million to connect directly to Ashburn. With the agreement, Herrera said, “what the state is actually getting is a connection that goes all the way to Baltimore and instead of just to one data center, it goes through a loop of 35-plus data centers. The state did not have the resources to do it on its own.”
Herrera and other county officials are encouraging private providers to lease the fiber and are working to let FiberNet, the county’s flagship fiber-optic communications network, serve as an on-ramp on an open-access basis.
“In a time where ideas move at the speed of light, this new fiber connection to the ‘heart of the internet’ in Ashburn, Va., is vital to the economic health of Montgomery County and Maryland,” County Executive Leggett said in an email. “It will benefit our existing cybersecurity, biotech, computer science and financial service industries with greater speed, capacity and security and help us attract other growing companies.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.