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Easton, Pa., Considers Creating Fiber-Optic Network

The network would provide fast and secure Internet for city hall, the police, fire and public works departments, while also offering the capability to eventually feed fiber optic cable into other parts of the city.

by Christina Tatu, The Morning Call / October 10, 2019

(TNS) — Speed, security and the possibility of future high-tech endeavors, like providing wireless hot spots in the city’s neighborhoods, are some of the reasons Easton officials are exploring the possibility of installing a fiber optic cable network.

Information Technology Manager Frank Caruso shared plans with the Easton, Pa., City Council Tuesday evening that include hiring a local company to install a private, fiber optic cable network around the city’s central business district.

It would provide a fast and secure internet connection for City Hall, the police, central fire and public works departments, while also offering the capability to eventually feed fiber optic cable into other parts of the city, Caruso said.

A fiber optic cable contains strands of glass fibers. Each customer is assigned their own strand, which is far more secure than typical internet connections shared by multiple users, Caruso explained.

They’re designed for long-distance, high-performance data networking and telecommunications. Compared to wired cables, fiber optic cables provide higher bandwidth and can transmit data over longer distances, according to the website Lifewire.

“Our bandwidth will be 10 times faster than what we are doing right now, and the need is there because of all the voice and camera traffic we have right now. The need is only going to get more,” Caruso said.

It would allow the city to provide free wireless hot spots, a goal officials identified last year when the five-year American Community Survey showed that 27% of city households don’t have an internet subscription.

Mayor Sal Panto Jr. originally wanted to see if Easton could find a service provider to offer reduced-cost internet subscriptions to residents, but the city couldn’t find a willing company, Caruso said.

The next best option is offering free wireless hot spots at certain times of the day, but “we don’t have a good backbone to launch wireless for the city right now,” Caruso said.

A fiber optic cable would allow the city to do so.

A local provider would construct and maintain the network. The city would sign on as a customer, Caruso explained.

It’s too early to say how much the project would cost, but Caruso hopes to see it implemented between 2020-2021.

Caruso has been in contact with companies like RCN, Service Electric Cable TV & Communications, Comcast and T-Mobile about building a loop around the central business district, which is bordered by Larry Holmes Drive and portions of Bushkill Street, Pearl Street and Sixth Street.

The more customers who sign on, the more attractive the network would be for prospective companies, said Caruso, who plans to meet with Northampton County officials to gauge their interest.

Panto said the fiber optic loop would also be beneficial to private businesses seeking a more secure connection, and he believes it would make the city an attractive destination for high-tech companies.

Caruso said he isn’t aware of whether other municipalities in the Lehigh Valley rely on private optic fiber networks.

“We will be able to support new and innovative products with our private fiber network,” said City Administrator Luis Campos.

Other plans for the proposed network include installing upgraded traffic cameras.

The city does have security cameras at its intersections, but newer models transmit a cleaner image and have the technology to automatically alert police officers who might be looking for a specific vehicle, Campos said.

Such a system could also allow the city to boost wireless signals during big events like Garlicfest and Baconfest, when crowds of people on their cellphones bog down data speeds, he said.

The new system could also lessen the city’s technology costs.

The bandwidth and distance capability of fiber means that fewer cables are needed, fewer repeaters, less power and less maintenance. In addition, fiber is unaffected by the interference of electromagnetic radiation which makes it possible to transmit information and data with less noise and error, according to the Fiber Optic Association.

Other technology projects the city is working on include a new website to launch later this year, and RAVE, a mass-communications system that will replace Nixle in January.

The city contracted with Nixle to provide emergency alerts to residents last year, but RAVE will have several upgrades for the same annual cost of $5,000, Campos said.

RAVE allows users to sign up for either text alerts, or voice messages that can be left on a landline. Nixle only offers text messages to a user’s cellphone. Residents can also register multiple family members at one time and include information about whether there are senior citizens or people with medical issues in the home.

That information can be transmitted to emergency responders if there’s an incident in the home, Caruso said.

©2019 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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