With the requisite countdown and the push of a button, Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas lit the city’s new dark fiber network at a recent City Council meeting.
Offering high-speed internet access to businesses and internet service providers, as well as redundancy, or a backup network, and greater connectivity, officials said ValpoNet also provides the promise of new business growth for companies that require the kind of technology that hasn’t been available here before.
“Fiber is the new information highway so the more exits we have, the more connectivity, the better,” said Heather Ennis, president and chief executive officer of the Northwest Indiana Forum, adding other communities, including Chesterton, Hobart and East Chicago, are also in various stages of setting up networks.
“Creating more infrastructure for business opportunities is something communities continue to be more active in,” she added.
When first tasked with helping establish a dark fiber network, Patrick Lyp, the city’s economic development director, said the business community identified five challenges the city would have to overcome: access to dark fiber was limited; capital costs were prohibitive; there was almost no opportunity to obtain dark fiber; there were few options for a network; and there were few options for service redundancy.
“Based on where we are today, all five of those challenges identified by the business community will be addressed,” Lyp said.
ValoNet, said Rex Richards, president of the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, is an asset for both existing businesses that want to connect to the network at a reasonable cost and for new businesses that need the connectivity.
“Technology is a major cost of doing business,” he said, adding city officials considered where potential business users were before establishing the network.
The project started four years ago, shortly after Lyp was named to his post, when a local business that requires abundant high-speed internet service wanted to expand but was concerned about whether the city could meet its technological needs, Lyp said.
Officials realized other businesses had the same need and the project grew from there.
The network has north and south loops around the city, with an east-west connector and the ability to expand as needed via spurs from the main loops, Lyp said.
“No matter how much cloud, no matter how much wireless, you will always need fiber connectivity to get the information back and forth, and our current technology hasn’t pushed the limits of fiber,” Lyp said, adding he’s told that won’t happen for “years and years.”
ValpoNet is owned and managed by the city, Lyp said, and businesses can use their own providers or hire one to connect to the network. The city hasn’t signed any contracts with users yet and will have a pricing structure and other details in the coming days that will have to go before the city’s redevelopment commission.
Once all that’s in place, he said, businesses and internet service providers can contract for the service. While the short-term goal is signing up customers, in the long term, new and existing businesses and residents will find a way to use the network, he added.
Construction expenses for the underground network have been $2.2 million to date, with the expectation that revenue will reimburse the redevelopment commission over the next 10 years, Lyp said. He added that there would be additional funds used to offset the cost of lateral construction but those will be reimbursed by the customer.
City council members lauded the project and what it means for the city at a recent council meeting.
Councilman Robert Cotton, D-2nd, said ValpoNet and its potential impact excited him.
“I do look forward to a greater expansion into the residential (areas),” he said, adding the network adds to the city’s “quality of place.”
Councilman George Douglas, R-5th, said the network “is going to transform our community.”