Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Minnesota could bring fiber optics to capital city
Local leaders in Minnesota are looking to cast aside the notion that the government administration is an inherently inefficient undertaking and revitalize its technological infrastructure with a next-generation networking.
According to TwinCities.com, government staffers in St. Paul have grown increasingly frustrated with their current network setup. As it stands, state workers must utilize a government-only network known as I-Net to traffic data and documents between municipal offices. Owned and operated by Comcast, I-Net seemed like a bright idea at the time, but the aging infrastructure has triggered more frequent service disruptions, and even full-scale outages, in recent years. As such, civic leaders are looking to lay the foundation for a system that can handle a larger and more diverse digital workload.
The most viable solution, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, seems to be a public-private fiber optic network serving the greater Ramsey County region. St. Paul city councilmen officially gave their blessing earlier this month to begin discussing available options with the Minnesota Fiber Exchange, which would be responsible for maintaining the private-side of the network.
The initial proposal is for a $14 million fiber optic network, with public and private entities splitting the construction costs. According to the Star Tribune, city leaders have ignored the predictable protestations from Comcast, asserting that the new model will afford St. Paul greater long-term control over costs and services.
"We really need to get a solution figured and start working on implementing it," Office of Technology and Communications director Andrea Casselton told TwinCities.com. "It will take a year and a half to get a new network built. We really are hitting a time crunch, and we really have a sense of urgency about this."
While government leaders seem resolved to pursue the public-private networking strategy, the benefits are not necessarily cut and dry. As the news source noted, Comcast provided the I-Net infrastructure for free in conjunction with its cable franchise agreement with the city. Additionally, the telecommunications giant has suggested that it could make the necessary improvements for less than $10 million dispersed over 10 years.
"We find it puzzling why they would choose to pay a 30 percent premium to an unknown entity rather than draw upon our proven track record of performance and innovations in the marketplace," Comcast regional vice president of corporate affairs Mary Beth Schubert told the news source.
Although either option comes with a unique set of benefits and drawbacks, a split with Comcast would be a clear signal that the city is looking to cash in on the operational advantages of fiber optic networking sooner than later.
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