From the mountains in the west to the Eastern Shore, Maryland is on its way to being more connected – at least technologically.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, joined by U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, announced Monday morning that the state's 4,200-square-mile intercounty broadband network is complete.
The ICBN, a project to lay fiber optic cables across the state with the goal of providing faster and cheaper internet to connect more than 1,000 state institutions, was done "on budget and on time," according to Ulman.
The project, spearheaded by Ulman, took advantage of a $115 million federal stimulus grant and $45 million in state funds to lay the cables. Construction on the network began in 2011.
Ulman and other speakers touted the ICBN as an asset for schools, hospitals and public safety institutions. He and others envision expanding online course offerings, digitizing medical records for patients to share with doctors and increasing the reliability of emergency response systems.
In Howard County, 30 buildings are now connected to the network, according to Ulman, who said the project will save Howard County residents $500,000 a year. The county's two 911 centers are also connected by the ICBN.
Ulman made the announcement at the Ciena Corporation headquarters in Hanover, where the state went to consult on the network. After taking a tour through the center's lab of bright yellow pipes and bundles of primary-colored wires that carry data from East Coast to west at high speeds, Ulman said he looked forward to building on Maryland's reputation as a tech-friendly state.
"We now have a robust, essentially unlimited bandwidth for our future needs," he said.
Ciena Chief Technology Officer Steve Alexander said the broadband project united the broadest set of constituencies his company had ever dealt with.
"The information age is all about how information flows, and that's all about these networks," he said.
While most of the buildings on the network are government institutions for now, Ulman said the ICBN was also available to be leased by the private sector.
He said two Howard County companies – a Columbia car dealership and a telecommunications firm – have already signed up.
"This is really just beginning," he said. "Now, we get to bring the value to the citizens of Maryland."