South Bend-based St. Joe Valley Metronet has received a key approval for a more than $3 million extension into Marshall County. The project will run underground fiber optic conduit along the U.S. 31 corridor starting in the spring. The Marshall County Council voted this week in favor of a motion supporting the network extension.

December 20, 2013

News Release

PLYMOUTH – A proposal to bring high speed broadband to Marshall County received overwhelming support Tuesday (Dec. 17, 2013) from the Marshall County Council.

The council voted 5-1 in favor of a motion supporting extension of St. Joe Valley Metronet from St. Joseph County into Marshall County and Plymouth.

Metronet’s dark fiber optic network extends more than 100 miles and serves more than 150 subscribers in South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County. The Marshall County/Plymouth extension will add 33 miles of underground conduit to carry fiber optic cable from the existing network near Ireland Road on the south side of South Bend. The extension will follow along the current U.S. 31 corridor into Marshall County, then along Michigan Road into and around Plymouth. Installation of conduit will begin with the start of the construction season in the spring. Work is to be completed in the fall of 2014.

Completion of the extension is expected to cost more than $3 million. Metronet will pay more than $900,000 to install the fiber optic cable. The City of Plymouth earlier this year committed $1.3 million to pay for conduit that will extend through the city and reach key business and industrial areas, including the city’s tech park. St. Joseph County appropriated $250,000 to help pay for the conduit extension in that county. The Marshall County council’s resolution that passed Tuesday will be followed with an appropriation of $500,000 to be approved when the council meets in January.

St. Joe Valley Metronet was incorporated in 2004. Community leaders had determined that lack of access to high speed and high capacity broadband communications was limiting business growth and concluded that a vendor neutral, dark fiber network would be the most cost-effective solution. Construction of the network began in 2006 with more fiber and more subscribers added each year.

Faced with a similar broadband service deficit and after seeing the potential of Metronet’s dark fiber network as a business development resource in St. Joseph County, a group of Marshall County business leaders and public officials began working at least six years ago to extend Metronet into their county.

Metronet is unique in two key areas: how it is built and how it is operated, according to executive director Mary Jan Hedman. The dark fiber network offers only infrastructure – access to fiber – not

communications or technology services. The vendor-neutral network means subscribers choose from competing service providers or light the fiber with their own equipment. Subscribers determine how much speed and capacity they need and can add bandwidth by upgrading their equipment. Subscription fees are not based on bandwidth.

And Metronet’s network is built as a public-private partnership. City and county governments grant Metronet access to municipal conduit, through which Metronet runs fiber optic cable, in exchange for free use of fiber. Metronet monitors and maintains the fiber network.

“This public-private partnership has facilitated Metronet’s growth while allowing government users to save hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Hedman said.

Construction of the Marshall County/Plymouth extension will follow this model. Plymouth Mayor Mark Senter said the city’s free use of Metronet fiber will produce both immediate and long-term savings in telephone and other IT costs, while extension of the network into Plymouth will help support the city’s economic development efforts.

Public funding of the conduit falls short of the anticipated cost. During the Marshall County council hearing Tuesday, public officials and business leaders commented on the potential and importance of the expansion to their Marshall County operations. Loretta Schmidt, president of the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center’s Plymouth Campus, said Metronet access is important to that facility’s growth and they are working on securing funding for the remaining shortfall.

On Tuesday, Ind. Gov. Mike Pence called for greater regional cooperation and increased private investment in economic development. Marshall County Commissioner Kevin Overmyer told the council Tuesday that in approving the Metronet extension, it serves as a model for how such cooperation can work.

Source: St. Joe Valley Metronet

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