Network Could Put City in Online Fast-Lane

Tiny beams of light could soon bring blazing-fast Internet speeds to the Jacksonville area.

During the Jacksonville City Council meeting last week, aldermen decided to establish a committee to investigate establishing a fiber network within the city.

The move, prompted by Mayor Andy Ezard, is a preliminary step toward bringing the extremely fast network to the community.

“There is a lot of detail that I'm not privy to,” Ezard said at the meeting. “I formed this group to look into this project, folks who have that knowledge.”

On this board is Bruce Giffin, general manager for the Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative, who explained that a fiber network offers incredible speeds that conventional copper wires cannot. The network could provide Internet, telephone services and broadcast services in a much higher quality.

The way the network manages this, said Patrick Brown, chief information officer at Illinois College, is by utilizing beams of light to deliver data. Traditional copper wires use electricity, which moves at a much slower rate.

Fiber optic lines are made of ultra-thin strands of optically pure glass that are arranged to create cables that can transmit light over long distances. Using this method, the lines can transmit speeds exponentially higher than tradition lines, Giffin said.

“Instead of five [megabits] or 20 [megabits] service we're talking about 100, or ultimately potential for 1,000 [megabits] or gigabit service,” he explained. “A hospital can quickly send diagnostic EEG and such, or a business will be able to upload and download technical manuals very fast.”

Brown said that upload speeds, or the rate at which data is sent from a computer to the Internet, can be just as fast as download speeds. Currently, Illinois College has a fiber connection provided by Mediacom that gives the campus speeds of up to 500 megabits.

Previously, he said, they could only achieve 45 megabits maximum with the traditional copper connection.

There are nearly no downsides to a fiber connection, Brown said, except that if a line is not marked properly and is dug up, the line can be difficult to repair. Fortunately, this type of scenario is rare.

One limitation is the cost, however. Fiber optic networks are more costly initially than standard lines.

A fiber network would be useful for many businesses Giffin said. Brown agreed, stating that IC could utilize a fiber connection established by Jacksonville as a redundant connection in case something happens with their primary connection.

Most importantly, the network would bring Jacksonville up to a modern standard of Internet connection if the city decides that a fiber network project would be a good move.

“You can't have real economic development today that doesn't have fiber access for a new business,” Giffin said.

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