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Fiber Provided Broadband Plan for Economic Growth

Fiber optic cable

by Valerie Garner

Dr. Andrew Cohill CEO of Design Nine Inc. and a broadband architect explained to city council on Monday that Roanoke City was behind the curve on supplying sufficient broadband access required to recruit and sustain economic viability.

“Roanoke needs big broadband” to attract new businesses said Dr. Cohill. The city of Danville has a super computer facility and extensive high capacity fiber cable connections throughout the city.

With access to fiber at multiple points companies find fiber more cost effective he said. It is possible to get high-speed data transmission in Roanoke but it is very costly. “From an economic development standpoint there are really two issues that need to be addressed – not just capacity but that it is affordable,” said Cohill.

Danville was very aggressive in its broadband efforts for stringing fiber cable lines. City owned electric utilities have an easier time incorporating the cable in their infrastructure plans. Fiber makes wireless access perform better. Startup businesses are very sensitive to price.

Roanoke is in a good position with fiber coming into the region but not the city itself. Roanoke didn’t qualify for stimulus funds because it wasn’t considered a rural area. “What is proposed is to bring fiber directly into downtown Roanoke from Bonsack,” said Cohill.

Redundant fiber (to provide a backup path) is critical for businesses and traffic applications. There is no fiber access to homes in Roanoke.

Currently there is a public/private exploratory committee comprised of Botetourt County, Roanoke City, Roanoke County and the City of Salem with high participation.

Moving forward either a regional authority or a public/private partnership needs to take ownership of the network. Cohill thought the city should create a fiber overlay plan that would isolate where fiber is most needed. Finding opportunities to include fiber while performing infrastructure maintenance should be identified.

Combining facilities including schools will save money. However, according to Cohill, the city shouldn’t be the service provider and no tax dollars need to be used. It needs to operate separately like an airport. Chattanooga, Tennessee has progressed to providing fiber to the home. This should be Roanoke’s long term goal.

Roy Mentkow, director of the city’s information technology department gave council a briefing on cloud computing. A cloud is the Internet broken down into application partitions. One cloud of yet to be converted applications resides on a mainframe operated by MFX located in the old Atlantic Mutual building. The city has outsourced this platform and its applications for about seven years and expects to convert the last applications by 2015. The cost to the city for MFX services is $15,500 per month according to the finance department.

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