Economic development: County sees fiber optics sparking growth

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek

Smartphones and cell towers are ubiquitous signs of the digital age, but a powerful technology just as vital has been growing in Delaware County for a decade, rarely if ever noticed by the public.

It is a fiber-optics network, the use of hair-thin transparent lines that transmit light.

Steve Lewis, director of Delaware County's information-technology department, said fiber optics’ power of digital transmission is nearly off the charts.

Whereas modern Wi-Fi can transmit about 400 megabytes per second, Lewis said, the fiber-optics network used by county government routinely transmits at a rate of 10 gigabytes a second, roughly 25 times the data per second.

Fiber-optics network illustration

For some applications, Lewis said, the county can transmit at 40GB a second over fiber optics.

In addition to the county's fiber-optics lines – used only by county government and other local governments and public agencies – a number of vendors offer fiber optics commercially in the county, Lewis said. 

"From an economic-development standpoint, fiber is as important today as roads or sewer or electricity," said Bob Lamb, Delaware County development director.

If a municipality lacks fiber-optics access, he said, it will have difficulty attracting economic development.

"Every single project we've worked on in the last few years, I would say, fiber has always been an item they needed to know about," Lamb said.

 Delaware County auditor George Kaitsa is the administrator for the county data board, which operates under the auditor's office.

"The speed of business is driven by technology," Kaitsa said. "I think having fiber gives us a competitive advantage when companies are looking to expand into Delaware County, particularly of lot of tech type companies like engineering firms, where they need a lot of bandwidth for processing their designs and engineering functions," Kaitsa said.

The speed of fiber optics depends largely on the sophisticated equipment on each end of the lines, Lewis said.

That equipment includes routers, switches and a GBIC, or gigabit interface converter.

Such infrastructure is housed at what Lewis and Kaitsa called "internet hotels," with access to multiple internet and telecommunication carriers.

For fiber optics in Delaware County, that service is provided by Cologix Columbus Data Centers, Lewis said.

Fiber optics’ wide-ranging effects benefit the county's average resident, Lamb said.

"Fiber's also critical to the cellular (phone) network. As we look at (fifth-generation) technology being rolled out, that technology only works if the cell tower or booster is tied into the fiber system,” Lamb said. “We will need to be making these investments in our fiber network if we want to have the full benefits of a 5G network for cellular services."

Kaitsa said he was in office 10 years ago when fiber-optics development began.

Consolidated Cooperative of Delaware and Mount Gilead – which says it now provides fiber-optics service to residences and businesses – received a $2.4 million grant from the federal agriculture and commerce departments to build 166 miles of fiber optics through Delaware County and into southern Richland County, Kaitsa said.

The goal of the grant was to provide online broadband access to underserved areas, he said.

Via a bidding process, Kaitsa said, the county received 144 dedicated fiber-optics lines from Consolidated for an investment of $625,000. 

"That was a great public-private partnership that benefited the county, and (the overall project) also helped prepare the county for economic development," he said.

The investment paid off for the county, Lewis said.

Fiber optics allowed the county to make an arrangement to avoid a $2,000 monthly internet fee and avoid the need for high-capacity telephone lines.

As a result, he said, the county recouped its investment in several years. 

Consolidated economic-development executive Brad Ebersole said, "Consolidated Cooperative Inc. continues to expand our fiber service to the business and residential community within our service area, including Delaware County. We are only one of many fiber providers within the county."

Kaitsa said providing fiber-optics access for local governments and agencies was an original goal in the county's plan.

Lewis said the county's fiber-optics lines also provide access to the city of Delaware, the Liberty Township administration and fire department, the Genoa Township administration, fire and police departments, the Orange Township administration and fire department, the Sunbury Police Department, the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the Delaware County Fairgrounds, Columbus State University, the Ohio State University Extension Office and the state’s OARnet broadband consortium.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews