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Fiber optic cable ready for hookups

February 26, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Government agencies in Washington County finally will be able to tap into a broadband network cable that was buried along Interstate 70 five years ago.

Maryland's chief information officer, Ellis Kitchen, said Wednesday that telecommunications equipment needed to gain access to the fiber optic cable was installed in Hagerstown and Frederick last week.

The new points of presence (POPs) will allow state and local government offices to hook up to the high-speed network known as networkMaryland, he said.

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At one time, the state envisioned that businesses would have access to the broadband, allowing rural areas to better compete for high-tech industry. The state abandoned that plan because of questions about whether it would constitute government infringement on private telecom companies.

Although the cable backbone was installed along I-70 by Level (3) Communications at its own expense, Maryland has spent at least $20 million on getting access to it for government agencies.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., D-Allegany/Washington, worked on the issue.

Government agencies in Washington County are already linked to a high-speed network through Sailor, a project of Maryland Public Libraries, said Washington County Free Library Director Mary Baykan.

Linking with networkMaryland will give the system redundancy and open up the possibility for faster Internet access, she said.

Kitchen said the state will conduct a trial later this year to see whether networkMaryland can be used for neonatal telemedicine. Doctors in rural areas could use the network to confer with neonatal experts across the state, he said.

Although networkMaryland won't bring broadband service to consumers in Washington County, Ellis said the state is working on other ways to increase affordability and access in rural areas.

For example, Verizon announced this week that it will offer DSL Internet service to 150,000 new lines in Western Maryland.

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