If Hillsdale City Council ratifies a contract between the Board of Public Utilities and ACD.net at the council’s Nov. 17 meeting, then the city of Hillsdale could get faster Internet and attract high-tech entrepreneurs.
The council did not ratify BPU’s deal with one of Michigan’s largest independent Internet providers at the Nov. 3 meeting due to “issues with the verbiage” in the contract, Councilperson Patrick Flannery said.
“My job is to mitigate financial risk, but I would not give this to my employer to sign,” Flannery said.
Pending approval of the deal, BPU will install 144 new fiber optic cable pairs to increase bandwidth for Hillsdale businesses and residents. Hillsdale Director of Economic Development Mary Wolfram said this will enhance Hillsdale’s ability to compete in a global market because the technology is so “cutting edge.”
“This is really important for companies because companies do so much business through the Internet, downloading huge data files,” Wolfram said. “The kind of data manufacturers download is blueprints and industrial drawings, or sending out specifications of what they need. Most of our businesses in Industrial Park manufacture products for another manufacturer. There’s a lot of that industry in Hillsdale.”
Bandwidth is the rate of data transfer between servers, so increased bandwidth means faster Internet and quicker downloads. Because so much business relies on the Internet for basic functions, such as communication and product development, entrepreneurs are often attracted to cities with more bandwidth.
As opposed to using electricity via copper wire, a fiber optic cable is similar to a glass thread which transfers data by shooting a laser down the cable. As opposed to atoms “bumping” into each other in a copper wire, a fiber optic cable transfers data at the speed of light, Wolfram said. Fiber optic technology is the vanguard of data transfer.
“We’re in a position to attract high-tech companies, like data centers or those who use huge distribution systems,” Wolfram said. “It’s kind of retro, it’s the same reason we got the railroad more than a hundred years ago — [it’s] because we’re in this southern location in Michigan. A lot of this is very geographically oriented, even in our high-tech world.”
Hillsdale College is an instrumental part of the fiber optic cable loop because the college’s Information Technology Services department houses the data center for the cables. In 1992, the college became a member of the Merit Project, started by Merit Network, Inc., and in 2008 the first fiber optic cables were installed in Hillsdale, running east-west all the way to Chicago. In 2010, a loop of fiber optic cables — based in Hillsdale College’s data center — was installed around the city limits of Hillsdale.
Merit is the biggest Internet service provider in the state of Michigan, ITS Network Systems Manager Patrick Chartrand said.
“They’re huge,” Chartrand said. “Hillsdale College has more connectivity to the Internet than most schools.”
In Hillsdale, the fiber optic loop around the city boosts both bandwidth and connectivity.
“The main purpose for the loop is to have multiple ways to connect to the Internet, so if one spot [in the loop] breaks, you don’t lose connectivity,” Chartrand said. “There are two primary locations on the loops for Internet connectivity — one is at Hillsdale College and the backup is at BPU.”
BPU Director Rick Rose said ACD.net wants to use the city of Hillsdale as a pilot project for connecting businesses and residents with fiber optic cables. Previously, Rose said, fiber optic cables in Hillsdale were used only by businesses.
“ACD.net had an interest in partnering with us,” Rose said. “It’s kind of like what Google is doing in Kansas City. This grants us competition for broadband service — eventually people will be able to move from cable to Internet streaming.”
In addition to partnering with ACD.net, BPU will help with the construction of the cables to bring down the cost.
“ACD.net’s original bid was $219,000, but with us partnering it’s $165,000,” Rose said. “We will assist them in getting their fiber backbone up in the loop. The majority [will be] within the city limits…that’s where ACD.net will focus their energies, because they’ll have more density.”
If the city council ratifies BPU’s deal, Hillsdale could have the cables installed by March 2015, Rose said.
The next step is to advertise Hillsdale’s presence in the tech community and solicit entrepreneurs, a task which Wolfram has already begun.
“I am going to the 2014 Michigan Broadband Conference held in Lansing, because there’s a lot of activity around this right now,” Wolfram said. “It’s going to take me or other people from Hillsdale going to these things, broadcasting it, and getting it out on our website so entrepreneurs know we have this ability to host high-tech companies.”