The Medina County Port Authority is preparing to launch a marketing campaign to attract customers to the county’s new high-speed communications network.
A decade in the making, the 151-mile network of fiber optic cable is virtually finished and already providing efficient communications to a few customers around the county.
“It’s 99 percent complete,” said Bethany Dentler, director of the county’s Economic Development Corporation. “All the underground cable is in place and all the overhead cables have been hung from poles. There are just a few places left where cable connections need to be spliced.”
Jim Gerspacher, a director on the board of the Medina County Port Authority, led a long, difficult campaign to build the county network.
“When I began this quest 12 years ago, I had no idea that this would take so long and be this difficult to complete,” he said.
The network consists of 151 miles of dark fiber intended to bring enhanced and low cost communication capability to commercial and institutional customers. It is owned by the Medina County Port Authority and was built at a cost of $14 million by OneCommunity, a nonprofit communications company that operates fiber optic networks throughout Northeast Ohio.
The network connects to hubs in Parma and Akron and forms a loop around the county that connects the cities of Medina, Wadsworth and Brunswick and also reaches potential customers in Liverpool Township, Westfield Village, the Medina County University Center and corridors where commercial development exists or is likely to be built.
The Port Authority plans to pay off the cost of constructing the network through the fees customers pay to use the network.
The first big customer to connect to the network is Highland Schools. It uses the network to provide telephone and Internet services to district school buildings which stretch from Hinckley to Sharon Center.
Highland Technology Director Roger Saffle said the service to Highland’s far flung school buildings would have cost $100,000 a year if the district accepted a contract proposal made by Time Warner Cable. The same service on the new county network is costing the district about $14,000 a year.
Saffle said the network provides Highland with the ability to operate its own internal computer network and provide students and teachers with a rich array of online educational resources.
The Port Authority plans to launch a Web site by the end of January which will provide customers with information on how the network can benefit them and how to connect to the system. Among the planned features on the Web site will be a locator function that will identify how far a given address is from the network and an estimate of the cost to build a connection.
“People are very excited the network is out there,” Dentler said. “It has powerful broadband capabilities and can offer an upgrade to any communications service people are now using.”
The network is expected to provide faster and more reliable communications to businesses and government institutions but will not be marketed directly to homeowners around the county. Individuals may indirectly benefit through more communications options provided by schools, libraries and other institutions, however.
Wadsworth, which already had its own municipal fiber optic network, is also expected to benefit from connecting to the network. City officials have been supporters of the county network saying it will add capacity and reliability to the city network and also reduce operating costs in the Wadsworth network which provides residents with Internet and cable television service.
OneCommunity CEO Scot Rourke challenged county leaders to find new uses for the network when construction was launched in March of 2011.
Rourke told a group gathered for the network’s groundbreaking ceremony to put their energy and determination to work to find new ways to take advantage of the network. For inspiration, he talked about Korea, where people can access 300 government functions on their televisions without even the benefit of a computer. And where hundreds of thousands of Korean students log on to noncredit classes each evening to expand their educations.
Champions of the Medina County Fiber Network have also described it as an economic development tool. Dentler projects that the network will create 218 jobs with an average weekly salary of $674.
Gerspacher said the new network is now part of the world’s fastest communications system.
“The fact that the county now has this large fiber optic backbone puts us in a more competitive position at a time when new technology is growing exponentially and playing a bigger part in our lives,” he said.