08/20/13 Plans to extend a dark fiber broadband network into Marshall County and the City of Plymouth will be the topic of a public information meeting tonight (August 20th) in Plymouth.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the second floor meeting room of the Marshall County Building. The Marshall County Board of Commissioners and the City of Plymouth, led by President Kevin Overmyer and Mayor Mark Senter, are organizing the presentation.

Extension of St. Joe Valley Metronet from St. Joseph County south into Marshall County and through Plymouth has been under discussion for several months with the commissioners and the mayor’s office working together to create new infrastructure for economic development that will serve existing businesses and attract new investment.

The Aug. 20 public information session will discuss engineering, design and the proposed route to install more than 30 miles of underground conduit and fiber optic cable. Leading the discussion will be Greg Wendling of USI Consultants, Brent Martin of BA Martin Architects, who are working on engineering and design; Mary Jan Hedman, executive director of St. Joe Valley Metronet; and Jay Bahr, executive director of the Marshall County Economic Development Corp.

St. Joe Valley Metronet installed its original fiber backbone and connected the first subscribers in 2006. The dark fiber network now extends more than 100 miles and serves more than 100 subscribers in South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County.

A dark fiber network is infrastructure only. Subscribers choose among service providers to light the fiber and provide other services to meet their specific needs.

A large concentration of national and regional long-haul fiber optic networks runs through downtown South Bend. Metronet’s network allows subscribers to connect to these networks, to directly link offices and facilities within the county and beyond, and to connect to offsite data centers, providers of cloud computing and other services.

Envisioned as an economic development tool, Metronet access has enabled users as diverse as the University of Notre Dame, city and county governments and banking, medical and manufacturing centers to save on broadband costs and to engage in innovative activities made possible by access to the highest capacity, fastest and most reliable connectivity.

Funding for the preliminary engineering study is being divided between Marshall County and the City of Plymouth. While initial cost estimates to complete the extension are around $2.3 million, the final cost will be determined by the engineering study which is expected to be completed this fall. Installation of conduit and cable could begin with the start of the construction season in spring of 2014.

Businesses in Marshall County already have committed to multiple-year subscription contracts to help fund installation of the fiber.

The Aug. 20 meeting is an opportunity for the public to engage directly with experts about the planned route and design; the expected benefits of Metronet service in Marshall County and Plymouth; and to learn how Metronet and dark fiber work.