Inter-County Broadband Network Promotes Inter-Governmental Resource Sharing

Whether a doctor needs to access a remote MRI file, a 911 operator is routing a backup fire truck, or two distant middle school classes are discussing the world economic climate, high-speed, instantaneous access to data and resources is often taken for granted until the lack thereof touches our lives. We live in a digital world, where transmission rate and network coverage reign supreme.

The ICBN project is one the most important collaborative efforts the state of Maryland has ever produced, and I am so proud that Howard County has led this effort. Once completed, this broadband network will improve our public school system, our health care delivery service, and provide a much better communication system for public safety providers—and it will do all this while saving the government millions of dollars every year. This network and our work to secure it for Maryland demonstrates the power of innovation in the public sector.

Ken Ulman, Howard County Executive

KCI teams use an aerial placing truck to attach fiber to utility poles. The truck’s 40-foot reach stays fully-extended as it drives slowly down the street continuously stringing cable.

In Maryland, a $115 million stimulus grant through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program is funding a comprehensive fiber-optic network that will serve the entire state and connect more than 1,000 institutional and community facilities. Led by Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, a nine-jurisdiction consortium is overseeing implementation throughout the state’s geographic core. KCI was the only firm selected to provide both design and construction services for this sub-grant recipient project, called the Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN).

“ICBN grew out of existing inter-jurisdictional relationships and two decades of working collaboratively throughout central Maryland,” said Howard County Chief Information Officer Ira A. Levy. “These jurisdictions have a history of owning and operating their own networks, so this was a common denominator that we were able to build off of.”

KCI has conducted conduit occupancy surveys for Baltimore City since 2000. The firm was also responsible for the civil design for the municipality’s 800 MHz ring, which serves as the backbone of the city’s 911 communication system.

KCI Technologies holds a $2 million design agreement, while subsidiary KCI Convergent Technologies LLC is working under a $10 million construction contract. “We’ve been working with many of these government agencies for 40 years,” said Senior Vice President Joseph J. Siemek, PE, KCI’s ICBN program manager. “This project has given us a chance to expand on the services and disciplines we’ve been known for in the area.”

Teams are working in several counties as well as Baltimore City, the only jurisdiction allowing a single company to perform both design and construction on the same projects. The majority of ICBN is new conduit and fiber construction, while Baltimore is integrating the network utilizing existing underground pathways. KCI’s extensive knowledge of the municipality’s existing network and infrastructure has proven invaluable in navigating the maze of conduits beneath city streets.

The project will create a spider web of interconnected fiber linking public buildings, government offices, schools, and other facilities.

Whether working independently or together, the combination of KCI Technologies and Communications Infrastructure creates added value. “Because our design teams are familiar with the construction requirements and details, our engineering can be better, faster and more efficient,” said Siemek. “Similarly, because our construction personnel interact regularly with our design staff, they have a better understanding of the plans and how to get the work done.”

Each jurisdiction has chosen the facilities to be connected. Baltimore City is focusing primarily on public safety facilities like this fire station.

This easy rapport, as well as the firm’s long-standing relationships with Verizon and Baltimore Gas and Electric, help expedite permissions for aerial installations along utility company poles. “We also have the opportunity to determine whether poles need to be renewed or upgraded to allow for additional connections,” said Siemek. “In some cases, underground construction using directional bore machines is more effective than alignments with high pole renewal costs.” In one case, KCI’s recommended alternate alignment saved more than $500,000 in construction costs over following a route lined with severely congested poles.

Keeping the project moving forward is critical to comply with the aggressive schedule required by the grant. The entire funding allotment—of which ICBN represents approximately $72 million—must be expended by August 2013.

ICBN 216-Strand Fiber
The ICBN project specifies a minimum 216-strand backbone consisting of 18 ribbons, each containing 12 color-coded strands of glass. A minimum of 24 strands are reserved for economic development, research and development, and last-mile build-out to homes and businesses through open-access, private-sector dark fiber leasing. The rest are allotted for local government use.
Although usually the more expensive option, underground installation using directional bore machines can be more cost effective than aerial connections when alignments follow congested utility poles that would have to be replaced to accommodate the new fiber line.

To meet the interim and final reporting dates, contract holders are expanding their staffs, fulfilling the program’s stimulus-related goal to support economic growth. To date, more than 200 jobs have been created. The KCI team, including a host of subconsultants, maintains a workforce of more than 80 employees focused on pathway construction alone, and Siemek and Convergent Technologies Manager Kenneth J. Harmel plan to hire six to eight new field lineman and several splicers in the coming months. The firm has purchased new installation vehicles and cable reel trailers, and is looking to expand its fleet even further over the summer and fall months.

To date, ICBN has met all of the financial, construction and engineering goals set by the state and the NTIA, and is well on its way to fulfilling the statewide network’s overall purpose of providing higher quality, lower cost broadband connectivity.

“Once the network is built, we estimate that the local jurisdiction partners to ICBN will have an annual cost-savings of $28 million per year,” said Levy. “This reduces operating costs, increases efficiency, and enables implementation of critical projects that were previously impossible.” ICBN and the statewide One Maryland Broadband Network, will also facilitate public safety interoperable communications, promote resource sharing across an inter-governmental network, serve as a catalyst for economic development, and encourage public and private partnerships through open-access leasing.

The creation of this network will place Maryland among the nation’s leaders in statewide telecommunications and set the stage for further advancement in inter-governmental communication, cooperation and efficiency.

iStockphoto / Lisa F Young
The benefits of having more than 700 community anchor institutions directly connected to each other could include reducing regional disparities in education through distance learning opportunities, and improving public health through the availability of tele-medicine, patient tracking in mass casualty events, and access to secure, online medical records. iStockphoto / Lisa F Young