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Milwaukee’s 500 Miles Of Buried Treasure

The city is creating a broadband network using infrastructure built in the 1800s. By Robin Gareiss, InformationWeek Nov 4, 2002 (12:00 AM) URL:

Talk about a long-term investment In the late 1800s, Milwaukee city workers buried more than 500 miles of ductwork under the streets to carry telegraph wires. Those same ducts started carrying optical fiber in the late 1980s. And now, the city is adding optical Ethernet switches to create a privately run network that will be used for everything from E-government initiatives to transmitting mug shots and public-health information in an emergency.

The 96-square-mile network, being unveiled this week, is one of the few networks completely owned and operated by a municipality. What prompted the 19th-largest U.S. city to run its own OC-12 dense-wave-division multiplexing network? Savings, economic development, and public safety. So far, about half of the city’s public buildings are connected to the network, which uses Nortel Networks’ optical Ethernet switches. “The performance is excellent and reliable, and everyone notices that,” Milwaukee’s CIO Randy Gschwind says.

The city expects to save $15 million over a decade by eliminating costly carrier circuits. And, given that Milwaukee was literally sitting on ready-made ductwork, augmenting the existing network seemed prudent in uncertain times.

Milwaukee had used its own fiber where it was available, and OC-3 lines leased from the carriers where it wasn’t. Now, the fiber buildout is so vast that the city will dump the carrier circuits altogether and is getting 64 times the bandwidth that it had by adding optical switches to its own fiber. Fifty municipal facilities are connected to redundant optical rings; 50 more will be added by next year. The network is expected to spur economic development by linking all government functions. “We’re providing … a more advanced quality of life,” Gschwind says.

What really has people talking are the public-safety implications of all that bandwidth. “The whole homeland-security movement makes you think about how effectively you can use this network,” Gschwind says. “It’s become more important in the minds of all city leaders.”