GBC, tech advocates explore high-speed fiber options

An overflow audience of more than 180 high-tech managers and advocates gathered today at a GBC-hosted event to begin exploring options for Baltimore to develop a high-speed fiber optic network with or without winning a 1,200-city competition to obtain free fiber installation from Google.

Meeting participants who jammed into the University of Baltimore’s Thumel Business Center heard presentations from two towns – Lafayette, La. and Fort Wayne, Ind. – that built high-speed networks on their own. Participants also heard a federal update on the state of broadband in the U.S. and a panel of Maryland experts reviewed Baltimore and Maryland’s current fiber assets and how they might be leveraged into a high-speed network for Baltimore.

“It’s well documented what high-speed fiber can do for business growth, education and health care in a city or region,” GBC president and CEO Donald C. Fry said after the event. “Information is a major driver of economic development. And with information, access and speed are the keys.”

“We need to take responsibility for our future,” said Tom Loveland, CEO of Mind Over Machines, who managed the city’s bid for Google fiber. “Today, this is not about Google,” he said, noting that development of city-wide access to high-speed fiber can turn Baltimore into and “innovative leader.”

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake agrees, and has appointed Fry and Loveland to co-chair a blue-ribbon task force to map the city’s fiber future, the mayor’s office announced today.

Via a live remote webcast, Lafayette, La. City-Parish President Joey Durel recounted how his city of 140,000 residents developed a high-speed fiber network there after being turned down for fiber installation by the local provider.

The $120 million project, which was financed through revenue bonds, has been online for 16 months and has had an immediate dramatic effect on the city’s economy. Companies that have already selected Lafayette as a business location because of its commitment to high-speed fiber include a Hollywood special effects production firm that hired more than 140 employees, according to Durel.

Social benefits have included connecting every public school to 100 mb-per-second internet access, said Durel.

Graham Richard, former mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind., also detailed via webcast his city’s experience in gaining high-speed fiber access for its 250,000 residents by convincing Verizon’s CEO to make the city the company’s first “fiber-optic city” in 2005. In return, the city promised to cut red tape to enable the company to easily install fiber infrastructure and committed to developing innovative uses for fiber optics, including significantly expanding foreign-language learning in its public schools, creating a “senior connect” program for elderly residents, and converting its health clinics to a “no more clipboards” system of electronic medical record-keeping.

On the economic front, high-speed fiber has been largely responsible for an “explosion of home-based businesses,” Richard said.

Meanwhile, a panel of experts discussed the already substantial public and private high-speed resources currently available in Baltimore and Maryland that could be leveraged to create a more comprehensive high-speed network. Several strongly recommended the creation of a public-private initiative to work on developing such a network in Baltimore.

Event photos


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