Economic development depends on logistics: the ability to move people, materials and, increasingly, information. St. Joe Valley Metronet provides a competitive advantage in telecommunications infrastructure.
Metronet began as an initiative of Project Future, the economic development entity for South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County. Community leaders realized the area was burdened by lack of competition for broadband service, especially the price of last−mile connectivity. Before Metronet, high−speed bandwidth here cost four times as much as in Chicago, even for the same level of service from the same providers.
Project Future believed a different service model was needed: a nonprofit, open−access dark fiber−optic network where subscribers could choose among competing service providers and where pricing would be on a flat rate, not based on distance or on amount of bandwidth used.
The Chamber of Commerce, local governments, universities, medical centers and key businesses joined in the vision and supported installation of the initial fiber network. That network has grown. It now measures more than 50 miles connecting more than 75 unique subscribers in business, industrial, educational and governmental centers of St. Joseph County.
The initial goal − to reduce prices by creating competition − has been realized. Access now costs a fraction of what it did before Metronet and prices here are highly competitive with other parts of the country.
Metronet also is helping foster economic development. In one example, GramTel, a data services company, opened a second data center in South Bend in 2009 and is considering building a third one in 2010, expansion supported by the low cost and unlimited bandwidth provided by Metronet. Metronet subscribers have access to the largest concentration of transcontinental fiber networks in the country, allowing virtually unlimited communications worldwide. The communications tool is supporting other developments, such as The Midwest Institute of Nanoelectronics Discovery and Innovation Park at Notre Dame.
St. Joe Valley Metronet is the foundation of the community’s application to be considered for the Google Fiber Initiative. Metronet’s vendor−neutral network, with agreements already in place allowing expansion through conduit in municipal rights of way, can be extended quickly and with relative economy to bring the benefits of the Metronet network to even more users.
More multi−tenant buildings are connecting to Metronet, providing service and savings to small and medium−size businesses. The Socially Responsible Computing Initiative uses Metronet as the backbone of a project allowing nonprofit organizations to share IT services and realize significant savings on telecommunications and internet access costs.
Metronet’s value as an economic development tool increases as subscribers learn additional uses for low−cost broadband access, especially when the cost doesn’t increase with volume. Metronet works with more than 30 service vendors to promote and extend services such as cloud computing and data recovery, creating a growing market for service vendors and more value for subscribers.