Fiber optics will expand information highway Subscribers will be able to see government in action

August 20, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County is starting its own fiber-optic information highway that will allow cable television subscribers to watch county government meetings live, transmit information among two dozen government buildings, even arraign suspects from police district stations instead of in court.

The high-tech network, a small but similar version of one the state hopes to have in place in about three years, will tie 27 locations into a rapid communications network as it snakes about 75 miles of the latest digital technology through the county.

It will enable the county government to move more information faster and not have to move people and to provide live coverage of government meetings for all cable subscribers.

"You could do 'Breakfast with Bobby [Neall, county executive],' " for example, said Chauncey Berdan, cable television administrator.

While opening government to greater public scrutiny wins praise, Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association president Robert C. Schaeffer said people might not like what they see if they tune in to "second-raters" posturing and playing to the audience. Besides, he said, watching a government meeting that drags on for hours would be dull.

Using a fiber-optics system, police and fire training seminars could be sent simultaneously to local stations, police could hold video lineups to identify suspects, the health department could simultaneously broadcast interactive health care shows to whatever health centers are linked to the network, and community college and high school classes could enter homes live. "It will stagger the imagination what can be done," said Bill Taylor, communication officer for the county's telecommunications division.

Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. announced in June a $30 million "partnership" between C&P and the state, under which C&P will install a fiber-optic cable link to each of the state's 56 colleges and more than 200 high schools.

C&P won the bid to build the Anne Arundel system, and is to begin construction in three weeks, Mr. Berdan said.

So far, two of the cable television systems in the county agreed in their renegotiated franchise agreements to pay a total of $2 million toward the system, which Mr. Berdan estimated will cost close to $4 million.

However, the county -- not the cable operators and not C&P -- will own the system.

The county network even could lease channel space to the state's anticipated enormous network, said Victor Sulin, assistant director of Permit Application and Code Enforcement.

Mr. Taylor said the system could save the county $5,000 a month by enabling it to stop leasing telephone lines for data transmission.

Both C&P's statewide project and the county's are part of a national race by telephone, cable and other telecommunications companies to replace standard wire cables with high-capacity optical fibers.

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