Northern Illinois grabs hold of the future

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/25/2005 - 13:47

Northern Illinois, which is surprisingly rural in nature despite being a relatively easy drive to Chicago, has grabbed hold of the future. Below is a press release announcing an ambitious regional project to get affordable, high capacity broadband throughout that area. In announcing the effort, an official connected with the effort said, "The communication infrastructure we're talking about will be as important as electricity, water."

Northern Illinois Technology Triangle Unlocks New Opportunities for Northern Illinois Communities

Rochelle Municipal Utilities announces plans for a multi-gigabit capacity fiber optic ring to serve local rural communities

Rochelle, IL - Today, Rochelle Mayor Chet Olson unveiled plans for a superior fiber-optic telecommunications network labeled the Northern Illinois Technology Triangle (NITT). The network will provide multi-gigabit capacity to the Northern Illinois region, connecting communities across Northern Illinois and opening new opportunities for growth in education, research and business.

The NITT is a joint venture between Rochelle Municipal Utilities (RMU) and the Illinois Municipal Broadband Communications Association (IMBCA). It will provide a looped broadband fiber network in a triangle along I-88 from Rock Falls to Naperville, with a section north to St. Charles, and from St. Charles along I-90 to Rockford, and then along I-39 from Rockford to Rochelle. The physical infrastructure will be implemented in three parts. IMBCA has already leased existing fiber along I-88 from Naperville west to Rock Falls and is now negotiating leases for existing fiber on I-90. Rochelle Municipal Utilities plans on installing the remaining leg of the triangle, from Rochelle to Rockford, where no fiber exits. The NITT is the first municipal utility fiber optic network consortium in Illinois.

Chet Olson, Rochelle's Mayor, said, "We're pleased to play a part in bringing about the Northern Illinois Technology Triangle. NITT is the beginning of a new era, not only for Rochelle, but for all communities in this region that choose to access this network. For my community, it means an opportunity to expand our economic base from manufacturing and rail service to technology services and support." The network ring is based upon fiber optic cable and will offer 33 (or more) wavelengths, each with the capacity to carry data at a rate up to 40 Gigabits per second. With just one Gigabit connection, a family can download their favorite DVD movie in less than one (1) minute, something which would normally take 13 days to download using a telephone dial-up connection.

The network is also designed to provide reliability, which is necessary for businesses transporting critical data and for national and state Homeland Security communications. Its high-speed ring technology provides protection against equipment failures and fiber cuts by providing an alternate path for automatic re-route.

Planning for the network began in the mid-1990s when the City of Rochelle and several other northern Illinois communities formed the IMBCA to share broadband service information and resources. It was during these meetings that members realized the urgency and need for a high-speed, large capacity network that will allow sharing of municipal resources, enhance economic opportunities, increase educational and research collaboration, provide security services and, more generally, create opportunities within the rural areas of the region.

According to RMU's Engineer, Bob Rogde, Rochelle contracted Black & Veatch, a leading global engineering, consulting and construction company specializing in infrastructure development, to develop a strategic regional action plan specifically the I-39 connection that closes the loop.

"In addition to closing the loop, we are also committed to constructing a "World Class Technology Center "that will be located in a business park," said the Mayor. The Center will pave the way for a raft of possibilities not only for the City of Rochelle, but also for the surrounding communities. The Center will maintain a constant flow of information and services and will be a vital support system for the long-term health and efficiency of new start-up businesses and businesses looking to relocate or expand existing operations. The hub will provide direct access to the Internet and World Wide Web and serve as a disaster recovery center for the entire area. It will also serve as the anchor business for the private development of a proposed business park.

"The state of Illinois' future requires progressive bold initiatives to advance our communities. This project demonstrates that boldness," says Mayor Olson. "It also demonstrates the value of working together for the benefit of an entire region." IMBCA members and the City of Rochelle foresee the NITT generating huge economic benefits for the northern Illinois economy, but also believe that its greatest value may be serving as a model of how regional high speed fiber optic networks can be created and the power it has to sustain and transform rural areas.

One of the most disturbing trends of the 20th century was the concentration of population in metropolitan areas and the corresponding de-population of rural areas. Supporters believe the NITT has the power to reverse that trend. RMU, established in 1877, is an enterprise of the City of Rochelle. The utility provides electricity, water, water reclamation and advanced communications services to the City of Rochelle, Illinois. RMU currently has about 22 miles of fiber in service providing fiber optic broadband services to 37 businesses. An additional 111 customers receive broadband service on a wireless system that provides service in Rochelle as well as the surrounding area including Oregon, Lindenwood, Creston and Hillcrest.

IMBCA is a non-for-profit association with a focus on providing education, skill sharing, and resource support to Illinois municipalities interested in broadband services. Its members include the cities of Rochelle, Batavia, Geneseo, Geneva, Naperville, Peru, Princeton, Rock Falls, Rockford, St. Charles, and Kane County and Northern Illinois University.

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