While the city courts Google Fiber’s high-speed broadband service, Raleigh is also busy laying 125 miles of fiber-optic broadband that could boost Internet speeds for city government, libraries and schools – regardless of whether Google lands in the Triangle.
Google announced in February that the Triangle is one of nine metropolitan areas where it might expand its high-speed Internet and TV service. The network offers residential customers 1 gigabit-per-second Internet service, which is almost 100 times faster than most U.S. broadband connections.
Raleigh’s network of cables could prove attractive to Google, but the city is looking to roll out high-speed Internet service to government agencies, schools, hospitals and other nonprofits regardless of the company’s plans. Raleigh’s service, however, would be limited by a 2011 state law backed by cable and phone companies that prevents cities from offering business and residential Internet service.
Details for the city’s service will be developed later this year, and officials don’t yet know when it would go online.
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Most of the fiber-optic cable is already in place, but it won’t get hooked up to any buildings until later this year. “There’s a substantial amount of infrastructure in place already,” said city IT manager Jeff Maxim.
The fiber-optic network was installed as the city links its traffic lights along major routes throughout Raleigh. The city’s information technology department piggybacked on the $28 million project by adding the fiber-optic lines at the same time.
Adding lines as a separate project can be costly. “The big thing with fiber is putting it in and the construction costs,” Maxim said.
Tying broadband to the traffic light project does have its drawbacks; the lines miss some key areas that aren’t along major roads.
“It isn’t necessarily where we would have put the fiber if we’d had the choices,” Maxim said.
Still, Maxim estimates that 60 Wake County public schools could be well-positioned for Raleigh’s broadband. “Their current connections are not very good right now,” he said. “They’re paying a lot for a relatively small amount of broadband.”
Providing Internet service to public-sector facilities such as schools and hospitals could give the city a new revenue stream. And city facilities could cut the cord to cable and phone companies, saving as much as $700,000 a year.
“It’s an economic development initiative more than it is a technology initiative, and you need to keep that in mind,” Chief Information Officer Gail Roper told City Council members.
For expertise and supplies, Raleigh expects to partner with the city of Wilson, which developed a broadband network before the state law was enacted to limit such projects.
To make higher speeds available to homes in Raleigh, the city will need a private-sector company such as Google to manage the network. Roper said city officials met Thursday with Google Fiber representatives.
“We’ve got a lot of maps to produce,” she said. “They’re going to want to understand our permitting process.”