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Plan would put more fiber in schools
Technology pitch centers on control, appeal to businesses
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Forsyth County News

The Forsyth County Development Authority learned Wednesday that the future is going dark.

During a meeting Wednesday, the panel heard how dark fiber made of glass has replaced copper cable as the best way to maximize capacity, flexibility and speed in telecommunications infrastructure.

The authority was not familiar with the technology. But Bailey Mitchell, chief technology officer for Forsyth County Schools, has been using it for a dozen years.

Mitchell told the authority about a plan the school system has been considering to provide networking and Internet services. He's also gotten feedback from officials with county government, the local chamber of commerce and Lanier Technical College.

The system's dark fiber needs are currently filled by Comcast, which plans to discontinue the service in about three years. Mitchell said the school system must then either pay more for less or take “control of our own destiny.”

In his search for a company offering dark cable networking, Mitchell found Atlanta Gas Light Networks, a subsidiary of Atlanta Gas Light that deals only with fiber and conduit.

For $13.6 million, AGL Networks would establish an 83-mile underground fiber network to serve at least 40 board of education sites throughout the county.

As with the Comcast service, the network would be closed circuit, meaning only the school system would have access.

The district would pay the initial $13.6 million to install the dark fiber, with annual maintenance projections estimated at $166,000.

Mitchell is pitching the dark fiber idea beyond the school system in an effort to maximize the project's potential.

Other agencies and governments could share the cost with the school system and get their own dark fiber access.

Being part of the project would allow businesses to oversee their own networks and could give Forsyth a competitive edge in attracting businesses.

“I know we lost a fairly large company in Gwinnett to Fulton,” said Brian Dill, vice president of economic development for the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce. “We’re being cut out because of fiber.”

Mitchell said he will continue to talk to groups that can benefit from partaking in the conduit. But so far, he said, “The biggest challenge is getting people to understand the kind of value of this investment.”