Friday, December 12, 2003

Butler homes could save with fiber optic network

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Butler County residents could pay substantially less for cable TV, internet access and telephone service if the county and Hamilton extend their institutional fiber optic networks to homes.

But that's a big if - considering hooking up Hamilton and only 10 percent of the county residences to the digital network would cost nearly $120 million.

Butler County and Hamilton officials received recommendations from a Colorado telecommunications consultant Thursday about how to use the fiber optic loop that has linked Miami University buildings and county offices for the past year.

The county was advised to hook up all 35,000 county water customers in West Chester, Fairfield and Liberty townships to the fiber optic network as a means of reading water meters electronically.

The county could then lease excess capacity on the lines for companies to offer cable TV, high-definition TV, high-speed Internet access and telephone service to those homes, said Neil Shaw of Uptown Services LLC in Greenwood Village, Colo.

The fiber network has a 100 megabyte capacity- compared to the 1.5 megabits now provided by high-speed Internet services, Shaw said.

In a separate meeting with city officials, Shaw recommended that Hamilton go into cable TV and Internet service, providing competition to Time Warner's cable and Roadrunner service.

In both cases, elected officials must yet decide whether to go ahead with plans to connect homes to the fiber network. "The county commissioners' goal is to get broadband service to all homes in the county," said Dennis Nichols, assistant county commissioner.

County water customers who already have cable TV and Internet access could save as much as 30 percent - or about $8.80 per month - by switching to similar services provided over the county's fiber network, according to Shaw.

Competition would also likely result in price reductions by Time Warner and Adelphia cable, and Cincinnati Bell, "which would benefit the entire community," Nichols said.

But the county plan presented Thursday - with a $79 million price tag - only covers parts of three townships. Construction of residential lines, with a $600 connection box at each home, would be paid for with revenue bonds and a $10 monthly surcharge for water customers.

The system, which would take more than two years to install, could generate $1 million for the county after five years of operation, Shaw said.

Shaw's plan was different for Hamilton, which provides city water, gas, electric and sewer service. He proposed - for about $40 million - that the city provide residential cable TV and Internet services, similar to Lebanon's municipal system competing with Time Warner cable.

"He believes we're in a good position to provide retail services, since we already have four utilities," said Charles Young, assistant director of the city's electric department.

For now, Hamilton has only committed $1.1 million for building a fiber optic loop linking all city buildings, including fire stations and utility plants, Young said. Shaw will return next month and present recommendations to the city manager and staff.


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