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iFiber too expensive for some

Project expected to be complete by mid-2013

Published: Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

STERLING – The iFiber project to bring faster Internet speeds to northwest Illinois is expected to be complete in the Sauk Valley by the middle of next year.

While the project was largely intended to give organizations subsidized access to faster Internet speeds, some local agencies and organizations still are finding the connection too expensive.

Sterling Public Library will not participate because of the cost, which would have been $300 a month, Director Jennifer Slaney said.

The library has about 30 computers, 11 of which are for public use.

“I want to participate,” she said. “But unfortunately, the cost is prohibitive.”

The $69 million broadband project is expected to help the region to attract and retain businesses. It is being coordinated by a nonprofit group called iFiber (Illinois Fiber Resources Group). iFiber is a collaboration of representatives from Northern Illinois University, LaSalle County, North Central Illinois Council of Governments, the city of Rockford, Boone County and Blackhawk Hills Regional Council.

iFiber will connect what are called community anchor institutions: schools, municipalities, libraries, community colleges and public safety and healthcare agencies.

The project is being funded by a 3-year grant NIU is administering. The project started in summer 2011.

East Coloma School in Rock Falls is considering connecting to iFiber, but it is waiting on a new proposal, Superintendent Kevin Andersen said.

The first proposal included a higher cost and less bandwidth than those being offered to schools that are directly on the fiber, Andersen said. The school was told it would be a satellite, he said.

Because Andersen objected to the difference in service and cost, iFiber officials are working to adjust the proposal, he said.

He said he didn’t recall how much the school was asked to pay. The school was being asked to accept about two-thirds the maximum bandwidth, he said.

“With just becoming such a technical society in school, it’s just needed,” Andersen said of quicker broadband. “The other concern is with the onset of state testing being online, the dependence of having that many students online at the same time, it just may be a necessity.”

The school has about 100 computers. Middle school students have computer instruction every day, while K-5 students have it two or three times a week.

The rate the school would accept would depend on its benefits from the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund. The program, also known as “E-rate,” is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Co. under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission.

E-rate helps government agencies afford telephone service and other technologies, depending on poverty rates, Andersen said.

Ray Sharp, vice president and chief information officer for CGH Medical Center in Sterling, said the hospital would connect all of its clinics except the one in Walnut, which is outside of the area covered by the grant.

The connection costs will vary at each of the hospital’s sites, Sharp said.

“It definitely is cheaper than us trying to connect with other providers,” he said. “That’s not counting the investment it would have taken to put that fiber in place. The capital investment that the government is making is going to be great, not only for CGH and our facilities but all of our community that is connected through the iFiber project.”

The connection will give the hospital better bandwidth for all computer systems, he said, and the performance of clinical and financial applications will be improved. The connection will also allow caregivers to access patient records faster, he said.

“It’s a wonderful project,” Sharp said.

Scott Shumard, city administrator for Sterling, said the city will connect to the iFiber network.

The city will pay $600 a month for a feed to the Coliseum, where most city offices are located. The city also will have feeds to two fire department buildings, the public works building, and the wastewater treatment plant. Each will cost $100 a month, Shumard said.

“We think it’ll be a cost savings overall because some of the costs are higher, but some are lower, especially when we’re connecting one building to another,” he said.

The connection also will greatly increase the city’s broadband width, Shumard said. The city currently uses Comcast.

Rock Falls Electric Department Superintendent Dick Simon said the city is negotiating with iFiber, but he declined to comment further.  

There is no connection fee and no installation fee. Maintenance fees vary from $1,200 to $7,200 a year, based on the size of the organization, said Kathy Siebrasse, a spokeswoman for iFiber.

The iFiber project has created hundreds of jobs, primarily in construction and construction management, Siebrasse said.

iFiber is building nearly 900 miles of its network in nine counties in northwest Illinois, providing direct fiber or wireless service throughout the region. Each organization that contracts to be a part of the project receives connection equipment valued at more than $5,000.

The fiber network will provide speeds of one gigabit, up to 10 gigabits; iFiber’s speeds are 25 to 250 times faster than what is available in the region now, Siebrasse said.

Speeds available through the iFiber network will allow organizations to advance their video-conferencing capabilities or distance learning for schools, she said.

Among the advantages of having iFiber services are: consolidating/centralizing computer systems, private phone networks, video surveillance systems, shared resources, enhanced government services, public safety dispatch; enhanced 911, cloud-based content management, off-site backup and data storage, and advanced monitoring services.

The project will be complete in Lee and Ogle counties by the first quarter of 2013 and in Whiteside and Carroll counties in the second quarter, Siebrasse said.

To date, 480 miles of fiber duct has been installed, which is 76 percent of the network, Siebrasse said. About 430 miles of 144-count fiber optics have been placed into ducts. About 140 organizations have duct or fiber installed.

The amount of work done on daily basis varies by location, type of ground being bored, weather, and other factors. The entire project will be done by August 2013, Siebrasse said. 

Who's hooking up?

In Lee, Whiteside, Carroll and Ogle counties, many organizations have committed to connecting to the iFiber network, said Kathy Siebrasse, spokeswoman for Illinois Fiber Resources Group:

• Of 110 elementary schools, middle schools and high schools, 85 percent have committed to the iFiber project.

• Of 52 local governments, about 40 have committed.

• Of 43 health care agencies, 90 percent committed.

• Of 33 public safety agencies, 15 committed.

• Of 30 libraries, 15 committed.

• Of 14 county/state governments units, 72 percent committed.

• Of five community centers, three committed.

• Of seven community colleges, six committed.

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