Possibly as soon as
December 2017, the Town of Chesterton could be the hub of a cutting-edge
fiber optic network, which would make it a magnet for high-tech firms--for
any kind of business really--in need of high-speed and -capacity Internet
That was the
thinking of the Redevelopment Commission in August, when it retained, at a
not-to-exceed price of $30,000, the services of Monroe Street Group, a
Chicago consultancy, to shepherd the town through the process of getting a
fiber optic network (FON) up and running.
Last week, at the
commission’s final meeting of the year, Monroe Street Group principal John
Nekus presented a three-phase plan which he said would position the
town--and could ultimately position the entire county--to be the preferred
destination in Northwest Indiana not only of established firms looking to
expand or re-locate but of innovative start-ups and other intellectual
The FON, naturally,
would also serve existing business and municipal government, the emerging
medical campuses in and around Chesterton, and--under an arrangement whose
details aren’t near to being finalized yet--the Duneland Schools. Eventually
it would likely serve too the secondary residential market.
“We are seeing a a
re-sorting of communities into ‘haves’ and have-nots’ when it comes to
access to high-speed and efficient broadband communications,” Nekus said.
“Have it and the place is destined to have a vibrant and strong economic
future. Miss out and your community will likely see lessening economic
fortunes and the strong likelihood of becoming tomorrow’s ghost town.”
Fiber optic is “on
par with previous must-have infrastructure imperatives,” Nekus added, like
“access to clean water, quality roads, and sewer infrastructure.”
* Phase I: the
selection of a network design consultant which would map the
route--consisting of an estimated 10 to 10.5 miles of conduit--find the site
for a bricks-and-mortar data center for the management of the FON, and
prepare both the construction drawings and the technical specifications,
among other things.
* Phase II: the
selection of a network operator responsible for maintenance, customer
billing and marketing, and “last-mile connectivity and onboarding new
customers.” Specifically, the operator would provide 24/7 administration of
a “stable, redundant, scalable, and efficient” network under a
revenue-sharing agreement but the Town of Chesterton would retain ownership
of the conduit itself.
* Phase III: the
selection of a construction contractor to install the conduit and fiber
On Monday, the
commission began implementation of Phase I by voting unanimously to issue a
request for information (RFI)--in the form of a 40-page document--from
interested design consultants. That RFI has a Feb. 1 deadline and a
consultant should be selected at the commission’s Feb. 22 meeting.
Appended to that
RFI is the following: a list, complete with street addresses, of all
Chesterton municipal facilities; all Duneland School facilities; all medical
facilities and clinics in town; and all businesses in town.
Member Jeff Trout
noted that informal discussions about the feasibility of an FON began more
than two years ago, in November 2013, when he, Town Attorney Chuck Lukmann,
and then Duneland Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Heather Ennis
concurred that, given the relative distances from Chicago of possible FON
points in Porter County, ”connectivity really needs to come from the north,”
not the south. At that point, Trout said, it became clear that the Town of
Chesterton might have a role to play in the development of a local FON.
Trout added that
the commission outreached to the City of Valparaiso last year, when it
learned that Valpo municipal government is similarly exploring the
construction of an FON. “Unfortunately, we’ve had no response yet from the
City of Valparaiso,” he said.
In any case, Nekus
told the commission, “Big Data” is the next big thing. It has to be, with a
projected compounded annual growth rate in data traffic of 21 percent over
the five years from 2013 to 2018, with that spike driven in particular by
smartphones (whose share of data consumption will jump from 3.5 percent to
16.3 percent), tablets (from 2.2 percent to 14 percent), and
machine-to-machine communication (0.4 percent to 2.8 percent).
“A strong broadband
presence is required for a community to succeed in the keen competition to
attract new business,” Nekus said. “Without it you risk watching your
community decline and your young people leave town, lured by opportunities
available only in better connected communities.”
target date for “a fully installed and functioning system”: December 2017.
That date could change this summer, however, moved up or moved back, when
the design consultant delivers its deliverables, he said.