Business at the Speed of light
Dec 24, 2010 (Kilgore News Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- At times it seems the Information Superhighway tends to build bypasses around rural communities.
No worries, Kilgore, digital road crews are on the way.
The Kilgore Economic Development Corporation is fronting $672,000 to Network Communications, drawing the company here to install a widespread fiber optic network, and hopefully creating a substantial lure for new business.
But don't get ready to hit the road just yet -- the initial phase of the project aims to bring the Internet improvements primarily to local commercial clients, going down a portion of Main Street then up Highways 259 and 31 to service the city's industrial parks.
Residential prospects are still far in the distance, but according to project estimates, there are 105 active businesses that will be served along the 7.18-mile route.
That's a great start, says Bobby Beane, KEDC board president.
"It starts by building the backbone to the center of the business community," Beane said. "From there, Network Communications intends to build out through the rest of the community. This gives us a true, high-speed Internet solution." KEDC is funding only that portion of the installation that is inside the Kilgore city limits -- Network Communications will invest an estimated $1.5 million to bring the service from their central location in downtown Longview.
The installation of the 'Gigabit Passive Optical Network' is projected to be cost-neutral for KEDC through revenue sharing.
"We will have the ability to recoup that capital investment over a five-year period," Beane said. "The board believes that whether we get a nickel back or not, it's a great investment.
"It's a win-win situation, and I think it will be a tremendous asset for our community." After gaining approval for the project from the KEDC board, Network Communications President & CEO Tony Cason presented the plan to the Kilgore City Council to get their rubber-stamp on the development corporation's decision.
It will take two months to complete engineering designs for Phase I of the project, Cason told the council. Preparing permits, submitting a bill of materials and ordering supplies will take approximately two weeks, followed by four months of construction. Some portions of the network will be overhead, some will be underground.
Network Communications developed a similar project in Marshall this year, beginning in January and coming online June 20. Barring delays (crossing railroad tracks, among other obstacles, requires sometimes time-consuming permits) the initial network could be lit up by summer 2011.
According to Cason, it will give the city the services it must be able to provide if it wants to bolster economic growth, luring prospective businesses to town with the promise of top-of-the-line technology.
"We want to take that to all the businesses within the city of Kilgore," Cason said. And, "We're not just building this out to the Synergy Park and the northern industrial park, we're investing our capital into building out to the remaining parts of the city." The company's surveyors have spoken with local businesses about their current service and their needs, Cason said, sometimes with surprising results.
One man at the North Kilgore Industrial Park reported he was getting "five up and five down." Five megabytes per second? the surveyor asked. Downloading and uploading? No, he said. 500,000 kilobytes.
"A lot of people were used to the minimum," said Tony Doria, vice president of operations for Network Communications. "My expectation is that, as you grow, this kind of Internet infrastructure is kind of like the freeway in that it's absolutely necessary for commerce to happen." If potential companies are limited in their feed -- restricted to a speed limit stuck in the 90s -- they won't be taking the Kilgore exit.
"Brand new high-speed Internet will allow companies that would have to go to other cities to get it to stay home if Kilgore is their hometown or to come to Kilgore," Doria said. "Everybody in town will have larger companies, higher-tech companies to work for." Network's lowest speed is 3 megabytes downloading / 3 megs uploading for a standard business.
"The technology and the bandwidth we're installing is 2.5 gig to start," Doria explained. "If we need, if Kilgore grows and there is a demand to install more, we could upgrade to 10 gig." During the Dec. 14 meeting, council member Bobby Hale asked about the potential costs to businesses.
"Obviously you feel you can be competitive in the market or you wouldn't be here," Hale told Cason.
There is no specific cost analysis set for Kilgore, but Cason estimated $125 per month for 10 megs up-and-down. For some, that could be a savings of hundreds of dollars per month. For others, it might be a cost increase or the same price they're paying now, but it'll be worth it.
"Would it be a cost reduction?" he said. "No, but it will be a significant improvement of the service." Phase II is "primarily the backbone of the rest of the network we're going to build," Cason said.
The second phase takes the network into City Hall, to the KISD Administration Building, the police department, the central fire station and other emergency locations. Tying it back into Phase I will create redundancy in the event of a line break, he explained.
Phase III expands into the rest of the downtown area, building a diverse route that will help serve Kilgore College and the school district.
Exactly where they'll stop, nobody knows quite yet -- engineering for Phases II & III is still on the drawing board, but Cason estimated a total timeframe of 12 to 14 months for the entire project.
"We're only going to build it as far as the businesses demand it," he said.
According to Doria, currently it's cost-prohibitive to expand the network to residential clients. The technology only just became economically feasible for a business-oriented project in this area, he said.
When the tech-specs will be affordable for residential use depends on the general market. When that time comes, the foundation fibers will already be in place.
"I wish I could say -- we're not in a position to give a firm estimate," Doria said. "A couple of years at the minimum." To see more of the Kilgore News Herald or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.kilgorenewsherald.com/. Copyright (c) 2010, Kilgore News Herald, Texas Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.