County Councilmember Hans Riemer says the key to providing gigabit internet speeds for Montgomery County is through the data-dependent federal agencies that call the county home.
Riemer this week released a white paper pitching a fiber-optic infrastructure that would provide ultra-fast internet speeds to federal agencies such as NIH in Bethesda and FDA in White Oak, as well as major institutions such as The Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville.
Setting up those places with internet speeds that are by some reports 200 times faster than the internet speed in an average American household, would allow “innovation districts” to pop up around the agencies and attract business, Riemer wrote.
“The great opportunity for Montgomery County is to build ultra high-speed networks that directly connect our major regional research institutions — FDA, NIST, NIH, NOAA, HHS and others — thereby allowing companies to provide data-intensive services to those institutions or use information provided by the institutions for applications that have commercial value,” Riemer wrote. “In other words, a local company could conduct health research connecting with FDA or NIH as well as a research team at the University of Maryland, or a company could conduct climate research connecting with NOAA and a team at a university overseas.”
The most notable example of a government-provided gigabit internet network is probably in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the government spent $330 million to set up its own system, available to homeowners and businesses.
It costs customers $70 a month, or $58 a month for a 100 megabit plan that’s still faster than the average private internet provider. It’s also been a major reason for some tech companies relocating to the city, which has caught the attention of many local government officials.
“To put it simply, the primary goal of the fiber network envisioned by this white paper is to attract more good quality, high-tech jobs and businesses to the county,” Riemer wrote.
Riemer said it’s an open question as to how much the county would be involved in the actual set up and operation of a gigabit internet network. But he wrote the county must identify ways the government can help — whether it’s by expediting permitting, negotiating with utility pole owners or leasing space of existing public fiber.
The white paper includes a map of a Montgomery and Prince George’s County fiber route funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It also shows a proposed Purple Line fiber route with access points along the planned 16-mile light rail system.
One of Riemer’s chief goals is to find ways for fiberoptic networks to reach actual research or federal institutions, the so-called “last mile” problem of getting gigabit internet to actual buildings.
“The county could require through the building code or by incentivizing measures to ensure that property owners build or renovate their buildings so they are ‘fiber-ready,’” Riemer wrote. “This means having the necessary network space, conduit, risers, and equipment closets for the fiber. Installing these components within and outside of the building at the time of new construction lowers the incremental cost significantly, relative to retrofitting the building later.
“If the County is serious about creating innovation districts with our federal and private partners, then ultra high-speed, highly reliable and secure fiber networks must be designed and implemented,” Riemer wrote.