Diversity & Inclusion
Internet / Municipal government

Who will operate southern Delaware’s new fiber-optic network?

And what will the state's role be? We may find out tomorrow.

Fiber-optic cables. (Photo by Flickr user Arild Finne Nybø, used under a Creative Commons license)

Public-private broadband partnerships come in a variety of flavors.
Scott County, Minn., took on a joint-ownership model. There, the county’s fiber-optic network is municipally owned and commercially operated.
Then there’s Maine’s private sector-led Three Ring Binder Project, in which state legislators removed regulatory barriers for Maine Fiber Company to lease its services to popular broadband providers as a public utility.
The spectrum is riddled with shades of grey when it comes to which entity owns, operates, maintains and delivers internet service to constituents in public-private broadband partnerships. Tomorrow, Sussex County will find out where it will come to lie on that spectrum.
Last June, Gov. Jack Markell announced that the state would be offering a $2 million grant through the Department of Information and Technology’s Delaware Broadband Fund to internet service providers, as incentive for the winning ISP to expand fiber-optic infrastructure in Sussex County.
Tomorrow, the governor will announce which provider won the grant — essentially a bid to maintain and operate high-speed internet service in Sussex County. Which ISP will it be? And, more importantly, what will the state’s role in this public-private partnership be?
Last year, former state CIO Jim Sills told The News Journal, “We’re not really targeting residential providers.” Sills has since moved on to the private sector. Will current CIO James Collins stick to Sills’ guns?
“We’ve been working with a lot of private partners across the state to expand broadband,” Collins told Technical.ly Delaware earlier this month, adding that while Delaware is the best state in the country for internet speed, that’s mostly regarding northern populated areas such as Wilmington and Newark.
“That’s great from a per capita perspective, but geographically, we’ve still got some work to do,” he said.
Rob Nicholson, Director of Business Development at Georgetown-based web development agency Inclind and member of the Sussex Economic Development Action Committee (SEDAC) agrees.
“There’s such a divide below the bridge,” Nicholson said. “Why don’t we set up some of the infrastructure allowing some of the northern-based Delaware businesses to be able to have a southern branch, or at least have some of their workforce live down here and work up there?”
The pending fiber-optic expansion might supplement the Wilmington Network Access Point (WilmingtonNAP) — which connects Wilmington to Georgetown and beyond, completed last year — and a fiber ring being implemented around Sussex County Airport. The bid to build and operate that fiber ring was won by Reston, Va.-based Broad Valley Micro Fiber Networks, a company specializing in rural broadband and a possible contender for the $2 million grant.
Whichever service ends up winning the grant will determine the type of public-private partnership Sussex County will see. It all depends on which potential contender has the capital to build infrastructure out to the “key” locations the state has in mind in southern Delaware.
“Lewes and Rehoboth have [wireless] internet,” Nicholson said. “Out west, they barely even have dial-up.”

Companies: Inclind

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