Chesterton Tribune



Chesterton TIF board seeking consultant to design local fiber optic network

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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 access.

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 capitalists.

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.”

Nekus’ plan:

* 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 optic cable.

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.”

Nekus’ preliminary 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.




Posted 1/6/2016




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