Borek: Experts advise on broadband utilization

Published: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT

The DeKalb County Economic Development Corp. held its Broadband and Economic Development Technology Focus Luncheon on Thursday. John Lewis, director of the Regional Development Institute at Northern Illinois University, moderated a panel of experts in the fiber optics industry.

Matthew Parks, director of Network Services at NIU, described how the DeKalb Advancement of Technology Authority installed 130 miles of fiber throughout DeKalb and portions of Kane and LaSalle counties using a $14.8 million grant. DATA is a partnership between DeKalb County government, NIU and DeKalb Fiber Optic.

The DATA network serves 70 community anchor institutions, including schools, government facilities, libraries, health care facilities and higher education. The network is connected to all regional broadband networks, including Illinois Municipal Broadband Communications Association for Economic Development, Northern Illinois Technology Triangle for Economic Development, and iFiber, the nine-county NIU-led network in northwest Illinois.

Parks noted that the completion of the DATA project means that “21st century” broadband speeds are available to public facilities and businesses. 4G wireless coverage is advantageous for many applications including videography, design, engineering and finance. Accelerated data transfer speeds facilitate greater collaboration, higher efficiency and innovation. As a recognized fiber hub, DeKalb County is now “on the map” for large broadband users such as data centers or software development facilities. Extensive broadband capacity is available to support business expansion.

Clayton Black, eTeam coordinator with Broadband Illinois, spoke about their broadband mapping responsibilities and explained the tools available on their website, broadbandillinois.com. These tools align users with providers of broadband, document the speeds and technologies available to an area and enable users to request broadband at their address.

Black said that DeKalb County was highly ranked – 13th out of 102 Illinois counties – for broadband speeds and availability of live networks.

DeKalb County can improve its ranking by expanding accessibility. Regarding utilization, he noted that while 79 percent of county businesses purchase goods and services online, only 46 percent of organizations sell goods and services online. This could be a growth opportunity.

According to Broadband Illinois’ statewide survey, demand for broadband is increasing. In addition, broadband access enables small businesses to better compete with big businesses. The survey also found a net increase of 5,000 jobs attributable to broadband, 40 percent of which were “telecommuting” jobs enabled by internet connectivity.

Scot Eberle, president of Fiberutilities Group of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, provided a look at how DeKalb County can capitalize on its broadband network for optimal development. Fiberutilities Group manages about 12,000 miles of client-owned network from Denver to Chicago. Their focus is developing a business model that incorporates infrastructure technology.

“Fiber is the road. It doesn’t do anything by itself,” Eberle said. “The key is utilizing this new ‘road’ to make the difference for business. Infrastructure is important because it enables applications, applications drive usage and users drive revenue and economic development.”

Eberle said there are many options for increasing utilization and that DeKalb County has a lot of capacity. He stressed that according to the economic model, costs of broadband access should come down because of the amount of fiber available; however, it will take both collaboration and competition to generate cost reduction.

He advised that DeKalb County create a marketplace for fiber by being bold, strategic, collaborative and smart.

• Paul Borek is executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp.

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