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David Dix: Hudson pioneering local fiber-optic network

Published: July 16, 2017 4:00 AM
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The city of Hudson appears to have distinguished itself as a site unusually suitable for high-tech businesses by becoming one of Northeast Ohio's few communities with fiber-optic connectivity in its business districts.

One of my neighbors, Steve Smith, who operates software companies and has already sold his first such business, all of them in Hudson, said that fiber-optic connectivity, as opposed to coaxial or copper connectivity, enables businesses to transmit and receive information at much higher rates of speed.

Curious, I contacted the city of Hudson and was referred to Will Ersing, the head of day-to-day operations for Velocity Broadband, the name of the Hudson-community owned fiber cable network.

The city, he said, decided to develop a fiber-optic network because it did not see efforts to upgrade connectivity being undertaken in Northeast Ohio by the direct dial-up services that many telephone companies offer or the coaxial cable network that cable television companies provide.

Not wanting Hudson to fall behind, Ersing said the Information Services Department conferred with City Manager Jane Howington, who encouraged the idea, provided support, and persuaded Hudson City Council that because Hudson owns its own electric company, the city could provide a high-speed fiber optic system suitable for businesses for an investment of approximately $3.4 million.

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After some deliberations, a majority on Hudson City Council gave the go-ahead in February 2015. By September of that year, the city had signed up several customers in a pioneer project, a group of clean, high-tech businesses close to city hall operations on Boston Mills Road. Since then, the system has expanded to serve other businesses in the community.

Network expanding

Hudson-owned Velocity Broadband is now available at Downtown First and Main, the Acme/Milford shopping area, Georgetown Road and Hudson Industrial Parkway. This year, the system is being extended to Darrow Road, the Evaporator Works, West Streetsboro Downtown, Aurora Street Downtown, Maple Drive and South Oviatt, East Main Street, Hudson Crossings, Hudson Drive, and Executive Parkway West.

The fact that Hudson owns its own electric company is lowering construction costs because there are no pole attachment fees and the city does not have to bore as frequently. The city's electric crews, already familiar with pulling power lines, easily transitioned to pulling fiber and that has saved Hudson from having to contract the entirely of fiber installation.

"Our crews are out doing this in any case for regular electric services so we just piggyback the fiber optic cable installation on to our other network services," Ersing said.

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According to Ersing, fiber-optic service is symmetrical while most other services are asymmetrical. This means that speeds for downloading and sending can be the same. A typical service offered, he said is 100 megabits by 100 megabits, a megabit being one million bits of information per second. A typical direct dial-up service or a coaxial cable service might be a 50 by 5. That means one could download at 50 megabits per second, but upload at 5 megabits per second.

Hudson's rates are competitive: $120 per month for 100 by 100. It's $500 per month for 1,000 megabits by 1,000 megabits, the largest order Velocity Broadband has received so far.

A business hub

Ersing said that Velocity Broadband has already helped Hudson to persuade three or four software businesses to locate in the city. He said retention of businesses which might otherwise leave is important, too.

According to Jeff Knoblauch, the Hudson city finance director, Velocity Broadband, despite startup costs, is showing positive cash flow some months.

"By next year's end, he said, "we hope to start paying down the debt the city is incurring to build it out."

Fairlawn is installing a fiber optic system, but must rent pole space from First Energy so its rates may end up higher than what Hudson offers. Fairlawn has $10 million in reserves it can tap to set up its system.

Ersing said Medina County has installed a fiber optic cable ring that connects its municipalities like the cities of Medina, Brunswick, and Wadsworth.

Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said the city is exploring options, including partnering with Kent State University, which enjoys high-speed internet service thanks to the state of Ohio.

I am not aware of any other efforts in Portage County to establish a fiber optic business network on the scale of Hudson and Fairlawn. We in Portage County and our municipalities have our work cut out for us to play at this level.

Brad Erhart and the Portage Development Board: Your thoughts?


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