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There’s one word that consistently comes out of the mouths of local leaders when you bring up the fiber optic cable installation project that should begin next spring.
Monticello schools are excited about the educational opportunities made available by internet speeds 1,000 times faster than is available now. The City of Monticello is excited about the economic development possibilities. Piatt County government loves the idea of moving data between its buildings at such a rapid pace, and the Allerton Public Library hopes to alleviate a bottleneck that occurs on library computers due to the large amount of customers who use library computers and Wi-Fi access.
How fast is it? Imagine downloading a complete movie in less than a minute.
Scott Wilkin of Monticello is not directly involved with the project, but the vice-president of business development for Alcatel-Lucent is also thrilled with the possibilities.
“I’m a cheerleader,” said the Monticello man. “This is something everyone should be excited about. Monticello has the opportunity to be on the forefront of bringing the latest technology to town.”
That technology includes razor thin fiber optic wire to transmit data via light waves. The state is installing 1,000 miles of the stuff along interstates in Illinois, including a swath that runs right by Monticello. It is all part of the Illinois Century Network’s plans to allow broadband internet access to more people across the state.
When a private company also announced plans earlier this year to run it’s own fiber from Sullivan north through Monticello – connecting to the Illinois Century Network – local officials got cracking.
Piatt County, the City of Monticello, Monticello schools and the Allerton Public Library have been working since that time to make sure there will be places for local hookups, since it is difficult and expensive to dig down and splice in once the fiber optic cable is buried.
The four entities are splitting the cost of installation, currently estimated at about $170,000, including engineering fees.
Hair-splitting data transfer speeds will not only help boost internet speed for government agencies and possibly local residents later, it is also seen as a potent economic development tool.
Piatt County has already been contacted by a firm interested in placing racks of hard drives in the Piatt County Office Building in order to sell cloud-based computer storage. It could generate about $100,000 a year for the county, according to county board member Dick Wilkin, who has led the charge on the project.
“It’s a very positive thing,” he said. “And it would just help the county work better” by tying together the major county buildings through faster internet. With fiber optics in place, alarm systems and cameras at the jail and other locations could be monitored remotely from other locations like the Piatt County Office Building and the county courthouse downtown.
Dick Wilkin said it also ushers in a greater possibility of high-technology, clean businesses coming to town.
For local schools, Superintendent Vic Zimmerman sees a future that could have Monticello connecting with other classrooms and instructors across the world through video conferencing. More bandwidth sould also make the goal of every student having access to Wi-Fi through either their own device or a school-owned one a reality.
It could even mean a time where the district no longer users printed textbooks.
“But I’m most excited about what fiber can do for Monticello. It’s great for the schools, but it’s a drawing card for people moving to town. It would be great to have a free wireless umbrella over the entire town. There are towns that have done that.”
Project consultant Scott Davis of All Your Needs Consulting in Mahomet agrees that the project is a logical next step to spurring economic development, although it may not happen immediately.
“It may not be the reason a company comes, but won’t won’t be a reason they don’t come since fiber will be available,” said Davis, who hopes the burying of the plastic conduit that will house the optic cable will begin next May.
The ICN network is scheduled to go online three months later, so the goal is to have all the fiber ‘blown’ into the pipe by that time.
Besides increased speed, fiber optic also takes up less room. Dick Wilkin said a strand of 24 fibers is only as think is his little finger, yet powerful enough that just one of those strands would be capable of providing enough bandwidth to supply Monticello.
The City of Monticello is doing what it can to make sure fiber will be available for both existing the future business. That involves installation of handholds, which allow for easier access to fiber speeds down the road.
The whole goal is to be ready for development when it comes calling.
“The idea is to make it available to anyone in the downtown area and other critical areas. It’s not going to be at their front door, but it will be in the neighborhood,” said Floyd Allsop, Monticello’s superintendent of city services.
Faster speeds would definitely help the internet glut at the Allerton Public Library in Monticello, according to Librarian Lisa Winters.
“We have tons of online databases, but when you stream those things, it just slows everyone down,” she said. “We also have people standing around to use computers and Wi-Fi.”
For Scott Wilkin, the project also shows that governments can work together if they put their mind to it.
“The greatest thing about this is to see the ability to work together. Look at what’s going on in Washington (D.C.). Why can’t everyone work like this?” he said, referring to the local cooperation.
Dick Wilkin agrees, and said that attitude has pervaded all of the meetings between the local entities.
“At the very first meeting you could see this was something we were going to be able to work together on. It’s been very positive.”
Davis said the next step is an engineering study, which will map out possible local connections to the fiber optic cable, and the cost for those connections. Metro Communications – the firm running line from Sullivan in order to hook cell phone towers to fiber optic lines – is scheduled to start their work in March or April. It is all tentative at this point, but by the fall fiber could be ‘lit’ locally.
He said the entire project makes Monticello somewhat of a trend-setter.
“Companies and towns may use this as a model for their project. There is really no model available for it right now,” added Davis.