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Sandy explores Internet's cutting edge

Plans are being laid to spread fiber-optic cable around town


by: POST PHOTO: JIM HART - Joél Brache, programming and database manager at AEC in Sandy, works at his desk with three monitors all connected to one keyboard and one mouse. The company does much of its business transferring large quantities of digital data, and the SandyNet fiber-optic cable is making AEC work many times easier than previously.Sandy is waiting at the edge of a boon in economic and business growth.

But there has been a slight delay.

Only the first steps have been taken toward that goal.

When the planned project is completed, Sandy will be an example to the nation that fiber-optic cable can move data with the speed of light — and therefore move business forward — causing an economic growth explosion.

The concept has been installed in some foreign countries with much success, but to date the idea has not taken hold in the United States.

In Sandy, the plans have been laid, but only the beginnings of the project have been installed. Fiber-optic cable has been extended through the downtown core, and a bidding company on the East Coast was approved last year to extend that high-speed cable to every home and business in Sandy.

Unfortunately, a British company purchased the successful bidder, delaying all of its proposed projects.

But while the details are being worked out, some business owners have chosen not to wait for possibly lower connection costs. Those businesses have discovered the extreme difference between the previous 4 megabytes per second and 50 or 100 megabytes per second of data transfer, with the promise of future 1-gigabyte service available.

Even though some of the city’s larger businesses are finding the difference refreshing, smaller businesses are having difficulty working the connection expense into their tighter budgets.

City Manager Scott Lazenby said it would be easier physically to connect the cable in residential areas. In fact, new home construction is now required to install the cable to each home before occupancy.

But in commercial zones, there is so much asphalt and concrete that it is much more expensive to connect.

To encourage the connection to fiber, the city is, in effect, financing, over about 10 years, the cost of connecting.

Fiber cable is working best in buildings that house several businesses, such as the Shuler Building, Wheatland Building, Frontier Buildings, Windermere Building and AEC Inc.

“These businesses sublease the fiber access,” Lazenby said, “charging each business a small monthly fee.”

Businesses that move a lot of data are giving high praise to fiber after they have seen results of the switch to fiber.

Joel Brache, programming and database manager for AEC, said the difference was dramatic when AEC made the switch to fiber, especially for clients in other countries.

“We used to send (by overnight carrier) large amounts of data on hard drives,” Brache said, “and then wait for them to be sent back. That was a large expense and time consuming.

“But now, we just download the data directly from our customers — directly from the Internet.”

That process is very fast because of the high-speed fiber-optic connection, and there is no chance — as there was previously — that something would be lost or broken.

With about 90 employees, AEC receives drawings of small (corporate) jet planes, and writes manuals for them.

“We’re going through thousands of drawings for just one airplane,” Brache said, “and we’re using those drawings to write manuals. If a couple of drawings need to be updated or are missing, we don’t have to wait for them to email us or put them on a CD and send them to us. We just connect to their computers and download what we need. For that, we need high-speed fiber.”

But single small businesses, Lazenby said, might be better off to wait until the cable is installed, because paying for the connection likely would be easier.

“We had a meeting with (representatives of the new company),” Lazenby said. “They came out from England, and they brought in two new partners (to work out the details of the project). They’re still very interested in proceeding because they realize this will be a proof of concept. They’ve proved it in other parts of the world, but it’s just getting a toe-hold in the U.S.”

That “concept” Lazenby mentioned is the lower-cost and quicker installation of this cable inside existing sewer lines.

Lazenby said city officials and residents would prefer that work be progressing on the project, so a meeting was held last week with a design company to explore the options. One of those options is that the city would take over the project and hire contractors to make the connections.

But this project is among those that are described as “easier said than done.”

“This is not a trivial issue (in the commercial area),” Lazenby said, “because you’re boring under a bunch of concrete and asphalt and trying to avoid a whole bunch of stuff that’s under there. It’s a real trick.”

The current project is to connect Clackamas County Bank and interconnect all of its branches.

“They needed a service that is high capacity and very secure,” Lazenby said.

In the near future, Lazenby projected, business growth will gain speed because, besides locating in Sandy, business owners would have to go to the high-rent district of Portland to get high-capacity cable.

“(In the future) we will be able to offer reliable gigabit service at a very reasonable cost,” he said. “That will open up a lot of office development.”

Lazenby and many others join David Snider, Sandy’s economic development manager, in their hopes that the fiber network will act like a magnet and draw new businesses to Sandy.

“I’m real excited by (the introduction of fiber-optic cable in Sandy),” Snider said. “I think it will represent a big opportunity for Sandy to be put on the map for Internet service. This fiber network is going to be unlike anything available in the state, except for parts of Portland.”