MCI to build fiber-optic link for Md.

August 25, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland's Board of Public Works approved a deal yesterday under which MCI Communications Corp. will build an $11.6 million fiber-optic network for the state government in return for permission to bury its own cable in state-owned rights of way.

The innovative barter deal, which an MCI spokesman called the first of its kind for the long-distance company, is a nonexclusive agreement. Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for the state Department of General Services, said similar deals with other communications companies will likely follow.

Maryland plans to use the state-of-the-art cable network, which offers much more capacity than traditional copper wire, to operate the State Highway Administration's planned "smart highway" system known as CHART (Chesapeake Highway Advisory Routing Traffic). The cable will connect sensors, electronic signs and other devices to a central computer in Hanover.

MCI contract manager Steve Grace said the company will use the right of way, running from the Pennsylvania border, around Baltimore and down to the Capital Beltway, to provide an alternate route connecting New York and Washington. Besides adding capacity to one of its most heavily used routes, the new route will provide a backup that can be used when service is disrupted.

MCI spokesman Jim Collins said the fiber-optic route would carry digital messages at rates of up to 10 billion bits a second -- four times the current maximum and fast enough to provide broadcast-quality video.

Mr. Humphrey said the state met with a group of telecommunications companies last year to let them know they could use state rights of way to bury cable -- for a price. He said MCI proposed the route it wanted, and the state put it up for competitive bidding. Other companies expressed interest, but MCI was the only bidder, he said.

"We believe other firms are not far off from submitting proposals of their own," Mr. Humphrey said. He said the state would be willing to listen to other barter or cash offers.

The high-capacity MCI fiber-optic cable, which will be laid alongside a smaller cable for the state, will run from the Department of Natural Resources' North Central Trail to Interstate 83 and then down I-83 to the Baltimore Beltway. From there it will loop around the west side of the Beltway to the Interstate 95 corridor and down to the Capital Beltway around Washington.

Besides that 67.1-mile route, MCI will build 8.4 miles of spurs connecting the SHA's State Operations Center in Hanover, the SHA office in Brooklandville and a state-owned radio tower at U.S. 40 West and the Beltway.

To compensate the Natural Resources Department for its use of the trail, MCI will pay the state $200,000 and provide the state a free wide-band circuit between Baltimore and Salisbury. Mr. Humphrey said the state's fiber network could be put to other uses besides traffic management, including educational and medical purposes.

The MCI deal is just the beginning of an effort by the state to leverage its physical assets by letting private industry piggyback on them. In addition to rights of way, Mr. Humphrey said, the state could sell or trade space on its high buildings and radio towers for such uses as cellular telephone antennas.

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