Editorial: Hungry for fiber

By Daily Record Staff

Hunger seems to be driving the new chapter in the grassroots push to build a high-speed fiber-optic network in Baltimore. And that’s a good thing.

The hunger, says Litecast LLC’s Mark Wagner, is for “something more,” in this case a potentially valuable economic development tool that might also spark social change.

This all started, of course, with Google, the California search engine giant that said in February it would pick a test market to build an ultra-fast broadband network connecting anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000 people to the Web.

Baltimore smartly jumped at the chance, and impressively put together a case that focused less on stunts and more on substance. We applauded that effort in March.

Now, local organizers are pushing to secure Baltimore’s Internet future with or without Google. A symposium held at the University of Baltimore this summer brought together about 200 business leaders, government officials and residents to start to think strategically about how to keep building the momentum behind the so-called Google Fiber effort.

Google was not named on any of the promotional materials for the event. The company was, of course, mentioned — after all, Baltimore would very much love to be Google’s pick.

But Tom Loveland, the city’s “Google czar,” made it a point to emphasize firmly but respectfully that this effort has in many ways moved beyond Google.

“We can’t sit here and wait for a gift from Google to fall on us out of the sky,” he said. “This is our future here.”

The challenge, no doubt, will be finding a model to deploy high-speed fiber at a time of stripped-down budgets and a less-than-robust economy. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has a lot of competing priorities to sort out.

But we hope the mayor gives serious consideration to the other models that have been used in the U.S. A panel she appointed this month will map out that and more for her in a report expected by the end of the year. Lafayette, La., for example, floated $120 million in revenue bonds to build a fiber network. Fort Wayne, Ind., partnered with Verizon to build out the telecom giant’s FiOS network.

There’s another interesting development at play here. This high-speed Internet effort is yet another way Baltimore’s tech community is using the self-organizing tools of Web 2.0 — the social networking websites, blogs and online discussion groups that are an everyday part of their businesses and probably yours as well.

Baltimore essentially crowdsourced a movement to its high-tech entrepreneurs.

We hope they stay hungry.

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About Mark Milliman

Mark Milliman is a Principal Consultant at Inphotonics Research driving the adoption and assisting local governments to plan, build, operate, and lease access open-access municipal broadband networks. Additionally, he works with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to increase the value of their intellectual capital through the creation of strategic product plans and execution of innovative marketing strategies. With more than 22 years of experience in the telecommunications industry that began at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Mark has built fiber, cable, and wireless networks around the world to deliver voice, video, and data services. His thorough knowledge of all aspects of service delivery from content creation to the design, operation, and management of the network is utilized by carriers and equipment manufacturers. Mark conceived and developed one of the industry's first multi-service provisioning platform and is multiple patent holder. He is active in the IEEE as a senior member. Mark received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.
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