The Marshall County Council has given final approval to public financing for an expansion project by South Bend-based St. Joe Valley Metronet. The company will extend its dark fiber broadband network from South Bend to Plymouth. Construction on the $3 million project should begin in the spring and be complete this fall. January 14, 2014
PLYMOUTH — Construction will begin this spring on a 33-mile expansion of the St. Joe Valley Metronet’s high-speed, high-capacity, dark fiber broadband network into Marshall County.
The Marshall County Council this morning (Monday, Jan. 13, 2014) approved the final piece of public financing of the $3 million project which will extend Metronet from South Bend into Plymouth. Installation of underground conduit should begin with the start of the spring construction season and the first subscribers should be connected this fall.
St. Joe Valley Metronet was incorporated in 2004 to help solve an economic development liability, the deficit of access to affordable, high speed and high capacity broadband communications. Metronet now extends more than 100 miles through South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County and serves more than 150 subscribers.
Faced with a similar broadband service deficit and after seeing the potential of Metronet’s dark fiber vendor-neutral network as a business development resource in St. Joseph County, a group of Marshall County business leaders and public officials began working several years ago to extend Metronet into their county.
Approving and funding the expansion required vision and cooperation among public officials in the two counties. Mary Jan Hedman, executive director of Metronet, praised commissioners and council members in St. Joseph and Marshall counties, as well as the mayor, council and redevelopment officials in Plymouth, for willingness to invest in a project that will bring benefits beyond their governmental jurisdictions.
The expansion route begins on the south side of South Bend, near Michigan Street and Ireland Road, follows the current U.S. 31 to Michigan Road in Marshall County, and then into and around Plymouth. St. Joseph County appropriated $250,000; the City of Plymouth $1.3 million; and Marshall County $500,000 to help pay for installing the underground conduit. Metronet will spend around $900,000 to install fiber optic cable.
A similar public-private partnership was used to build out the network in St. Joseph County, with South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County giving Metronet access to conduit through which to extend fiber optic cable. In return, the governmental entities receive free access to fiber. The agreements lessen the burden of government by saving thousands of dollars in telecommunications expenses as well as supporting innovation in delivering services.
In St. Joseph County, a group of initial capital contributors agreed to prepay several years of subscription fees to help fund the fiber buildout. The same model will be followed in Marshall County. Two of those initial supporters, Hoosier Racing Tire and St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, told the Marshall council in December that the Metronet access was vital to continued growth of their organizations. Economic development experts also pointed out that access to affordable broadband was an important factor in attracting new business investment.
Loretta Schmidt, who is president of the SJRMC Plymouth Campus, explained the benefits the Metronet extension will bring to the Plymouth Campus and the patient community in a statement released Monday.
“St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend became a founding partner in the St. Joe Valley Metronet in 2005. Since that time we have realized the benefits of fiber-optic data connectivity between the hospital, the data center, and many of our employed physician practices throughout St. Joseph County. This has resulted in substantial cost savings to our organization and vastly improved services to our patients,” she said.
“In 2014 we will be able to offer these benefits to our hospital in Plymouth. This will allow patient information such as medical records, images, and test results to be transmitted securely between South Bend in much higher volumes and at a speed which is not possible today,” she said.
“Since 2005 it is estimated that SJRMC has saved more than $200,000 per year by utilizing the Metronet in St. Joseph County. It is projected that an additional $150,000 per year can be saved in Marshall County,” she added.
“We’re proud that St Joseph Regional Medical Center will become a founding partner in this endeavor along with our friends at Hoosier Tire,” she said, and she praised the “cooperative efforts of the St. Joe Valley Metronet, Marshall County, St. Joseph County, and the City of Plymouth, in extending the network.