Forward to fiber optics

Work on long-awaited technology network linking county agencies is to start this year

February 11, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

CLARIFICATION

In the Feb. 11 edition of the Carroll Sun, an article on the Carroll County Public Network should have stated that the video cameras in the county government complex are operated remotely at the Community Media Center, which is near Westminster High School.

A long-awaited fiber-optic network to link Carroll County's public schools, government offices, community college and library system will save taxpayer money by connecting these agencies with technology that allows information to be shared and stored more efficiently, officials said.

Laying of the cable for the high-speed network will begin in late spring or early summer, while the entire system should be up in three to five years, officials said.

"It's really government working together," said Gary R. Davis, chief information officer for Carroll County public schools and chairman of the emerging Carroll County Public Network. "The taxpayers are really getting their money's worth, instead of having all these parallel efforts."

County officials have estimated that the fiber-optic network, once complete, will save more than $900,000 in telecommunication costs, which the county pays in leases on telephone and Internet lines.

The county will own and operate the system.

"If Verizon gets bought out, that doesn't affect us," said Mark E. Ripper, Carroll's acting administrator of information and technology. "It's our infrastructure."

The network will enable a range of other cost-saving uses, officials said.

The school system envisions video and teleconferencing to bring more college and Advanced Placement courses to schools.

Davis said the schools current system lacks the speed and bandwidth to fully support more video and teleconferencing.

The school system's 950 phone lines can be consolidated into one Internet-based system at the central office, eliminating long-distance costs between Westminster and Mount Airy, Davis added.

Satellite mapping and homeland security data will flow more freely through the network between fire and police departments on the municipal, county and state level, officials said.

Each government branch on the network will act as a backup data center for the system.

For example, if a natural disaster damaged the main county government building, all the data and records would be available through the county Board of Education, county spokeswoman Vivian D. Laxton said.

By the end of this year, officials hope to have the fiber-optic network working in priority areas, where less cable is needed to connect numerous agencies clustered together.

Westminster High School, the Gateway School, Robert Moton Elementary, Carroll Community College and the fire training center could easily be wired along a stretch of Route 32.

`It just sat there'

A limited amount of fiber-optic cable, known as the I-Net, exists in Carroll's municipalities, created under cable franchise agreements with Prestige Communications and then Adelphia.

"It just sat there," Westminster City Councilman Robert P. Wack, the city's liaison to the Carroll Cable Regulatory Commission, said of the cable Adelphia laid. "No one was using it. Now, it's just gathering momentum."

Already, the Westminster Police Department is using a fiber-optic connection to tap into the county's computerized dispatch center for a better recordkeeping database, Wack said.

He said Westminster also could use the network to develop wireless Internet hot spots throughout the city.

Sixteen vendors submitted proposals for the wireless project, and one could be selected next month.

In the county government complex, the video cameras that record the commissioners' meetings are operated remotely at Westminster High School with the help of fiber optics, Laxton said.

And the three public schools in Mount Airy are connected through fiber-optic cable, eliminating the need for three computer servers, Davis said.

Super fast

To manage the construction and operations of the public network, the Carroll County commissioners awarded a $750,000 contract last week to Skyline Network Engineering LLC, in Eldersburg.

Fiber-optic cable will transmit data 1,000 times as fast as the current T1 lines in use, Davis said, virtually operating at the speed of light.

"It's like filling a swimming pool with a straw versus a 26-foot storm drain," Davis said.

In addition to cutting costs, the public network will drive economic development in the county, Davis said.

Growing interest

More companies will want to relocate to a county with network-based distance learning at its community college and in the schools, he said.

"It's going to be a huge selling point," Davis said. "Hopefully, we'll be creating a work force to attract some companies to come in."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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