County may seek firm for fiber optic link

By BRIAN NEARING
Gazette Reporter
ALBANY - The county may build its own piece of the information superhighway - and offer part of it to schools, libraries and hospitals.

The county wants its own network of fiber optic, high-speed data lines, but doesn't want to pay the substantial cost. Companies that install such lines need inexpensive places to put them.

A plan by County Executive Michael Breslin brings those two needs together. His proposal calls for the county to offer free room along its roads and sewer lines to a company willing to install underground fiber optic lines.

"Creating a fiber optic ring will take our investment in information technology one step further," he said. "With this new technology in place, Albany County will substantially enhance its competitive edge in attracting the types of high-tech businesses that will support economic growth.

"Fiber optic cables are lines made of special glass that allow vast amounts of electronic data to travel back and forth at very high speeds. Fiber optic lines offered by cable companies are currently the fastest way to connect to the Internet, and are many times faster than regular telephone lines.

The first phase of Breslin's proposal calls for laying about 8.5 miles of fiber optic line from the county jail, nursing homes and airport on Albany Shaker Road to the county's main offices on State Street in Albany, said Mark Lawton, director of public services for the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute.

The line would run down Albany-ShakerRoad, along Everett Road, link up with the county sewer line near the Conrail tracks, and then follow Broadway, Columbia Street and Lodge Street before connecting to the county's State Street offices.

The county would offer that route free to a company that would install the line. The county would own the line, but the company would be guaranteed a certain portion of the line under a long-term lease, said Lawton.

It could cost the county about $850,000 to install such a line itself, he added. "Companies are looking for [free] space like this. It is very expensive for them to buy right-of-ways, especially in urban areas," said Lawton.

Such a line would allow county offices to link up their computer systems most efficiently. Also, the line would have such excess capacity that links to it could also be offered to schools, libraries, research centers, local governments and social services groups, said Lawton.

"This would enable the county to set a new standard for information services." said Lawton.

"No one has tried this concept out side of New York City," said Lawton. There, the system is available only to private industry. And the city of Buffalo also has a similar line, called CityNet, which is also not open to public use, said Lawton.

Breslin spokeswoman Susan Pedo said Breslin is seeking reaction from county lawmakers before taking the plan any further.

The plan was developed by a consortium of local business and education leaders during the last year, said Pedo. The consortium includes Albany Medical Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Russell Sage College, the University at Albany, Hudson Valley Community College, First Albany Corporation, NYNet, NYSERNET, KPMG Peat Marwick, Picotte and the University heights Consortium.