By Starrla Cray
CARVER COUNTY, MN Carver County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state, and it’s developing an ultra-quick fiber optic connection to match.
A fiber optic cable was recently installed under the river between the Scott County Government Center in Shakopee and the Carver County Government Center in Chaska, which will bridge the technology divide between the two counties. “Our government center is now tied into Scott County’s government center, which means we’re able to communicate much faster with them,” Carver County Administrative Services Division Director Steve Taylor explained.
The cable is part of the Carver County Open Fiber Initiative (CCOFI) fiber ring project (pronounced “coffee”).
“We’re looking at reducing the amount of equipment at both centers, from four servers down to two,” Taylor said.
Typically, each government center has two large servers, utilizing one as a backup. With the fiber optic connection, Carver and Scott counties can use each other’s servers as a backup instead.
“That would be a money-saving thing, because we’d have less equipment under maintenance,” Taylor said.
Another bonus of connecting to Scott County via fiber optics is that it puts Carver County one step closer to being tied to the 511 building in Minneapolis.
“The 511 site is the Internet hub of the Twin Cities,” Taylor said. “It’s like the nerve center.”
When Scott County connected to the 511 building, it improved communication speed by 10 times with no additional cost, according to a March 4 article in the Chanhassen Villager.
Although the fiber optic efforts are only for public sectors, such as cities, schools, and counties, Taylor said he hopes it will eventually benefit residents and private businesses, as well.
“We want private companies to access the fiber we’re putting in,” Taylor said, explaining that Carver County will not be providing Internet, cable, telephone, or other data services, but will instead provide an opportunity for private companies to utilize the ring’s open network to provide these services.
“The government is not looking at competing with private industry,” he said.
According to a community outreach packet from Carver County, it is not typically cost effective for private companies to provide high-speed Internet services in rural areas.
Therefore, it’s estimated that 55 percent of the county is “under-served,” including areas that only have dial-up services.
The CCOFI ring is expected to provide the infrastructure needed for private companies to cost-effectively expand their services to under-served areas.
A $7.5-million effort
The most expensive part of the fiber project is the cost of trenching the fiber into the ground.
“The total project cost is $7.5 million, and the county is paying 20 percent of that,” Taylor said. The remaining 80 percent (about $6 million) will be paid for through a federal grant.
The CCOFI ring project began in August 2010, and must be completed within three years, according to the federal grant requirements.
“It’ll take two years to complete it, so we’re looking at about the summer of 2013,” Taylor said.
Currently, the TI copper line contracts for DSL services to 18 buildings cost the county about $290,000 each year.
“They’re really expensive and they’re really slow,” Taylor said.
Once the ring is completed, the county will experience a reduction in annual expenses. The estimated payback period for the county is five years.
The fiber is expected to last between 30 and 40 years, and the electronics on the end of the fiber are designed to last five to 10 years.
Carver County is currently looking into the possibilities that the connection provides, including shared IT licensing, shared data center equipment, potential for another disaster recovery site, video meetings, and shared services.
One of the major incentives for doing the project is the enhanced collaboration it will provide. Video conferencing between public institutions, shared Internet services, shared software licensing, and shared staff are just a few of the advantages.
To learn more about the CCOFI project and the recent connection to Scott County, go to http://www.co.carver.mn.us/departments/county_fiber_project/index.asp.