Fiber optics technology under study in Seaford

By Tony E. Windsor

Nanticoke Health Services request may take Seaford into fiber optics business

Seaford city officials are considering an opportunity to add fiber optics communications technology to its list of utility services. In the past the city has discussed with engineers the potential of running special fiber optics technology along some of its utility poles; however the option has always been cost prohibitive. Recently, Nanticoke Health Services (NHS) has approached the city about its desires to have fiber optics wiring available to enhance its in-house communications and data flow. During the July 9 meeting, Seaford Mayor and Council meeting, City Manager Dolores Slatcher presented the request from NHS and expressed her opinion that this could be the opportunity the city needs to get into fiber optics service. Fiber optics is a high quality communications transfer wiring that enables clear transmission of communications over a long distance. Slatcher said NHS wants to utilize fiber optics technology at its Mears Health Campus, which is being planned for US 13A, across from the US Post Office. NHS is also in the process of purchasing the former PK City building on Stein Highway and plans to use the fiber optics there as well. It is hoped to have the fiber optics installed by the end of 2002. Renee Morris, Public Relations Specialist for NHS, said it is important for the medical facility to utilize modern technology to its fullest advantage. She said with the growth of NHS, maintaining communications via a process of networking is imperative to the operation. “Much like we are able to communicate between the hospital and Life Care at Lofland, we will also need to have good communications with our new facilities as well,” she said. Morris explained that NHS plans to use the PK City building as an administrative branch and tentatively does not expect to have any actual health services provided at the site. She said at present, the hospital would only use the unoccupied portion of the PK building. The tenants who occupy space on the west side of the building will remain in their prospective locations. At the Seaford Council meeting, City Manager Slatcher said the city has reserved space on its utility poles to accommodate the fiber optics wiring. However, as a means of protecting the city’s future ability to maintain control over utility services, the fiber optics should be made available by lease, not ownership. Therefore it is recommended by the city’s Electric Committee that the city agree to support the request of NHS, but make the project a city operation. Slatcher said NHS will pay some of the up front equipment costs, which in the past made fiber optics a less than affordable option. “Having a business like Nanticoke Health Services as a first customer for a fiber optics system is a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “We think perhaps charging a pro-rated maintenance fee, but no monthly charge would be the way to do this. Perhaps the next customers may pay equipment costs and a monthly fee, but not the first customer who will help us get the fiber optics service in the city. But, we do not want them to own this system, because our people will be doing the maintenance. We will expect the customers to handle the head-in equipment costs. This is what made fiber optics a cost issue when we discussed it three years ago.” Slatcher said it is also possible that at some point the city may want to use the fiber optics for its own communications system. “We have to take baby steps until we learn more about this,” she said. Seaford Electric Supervisor Dave Thomas told the council that what is being proposed for the city is a fiber optics system that will be installed with 96 fibers. He said most users of the fiber optics would use two fibers each, one for in-coming transmissions, and one for out-going transmissions. Therefore 96 fibers would facilitate 48 customers. However, NHS has already requested to have control over 24 fibers, or 12 individual hookups. This leaves the city able to eventually offer the fiber optics service to 36 additional businesses. In its proposal, the city is seeking to install fiber optics wiring in a multi-phase project. The first phase would involve running 5.5 cable miles of fiber optics throughout the city to enable hook up for 20 prospective customers. A second phase would include another 2.5 cable miles of fiber optics. In addition to providing the opportunity to hook up at the Mears Health Campus, PK City facility as well as other operations in the Nanticoke Health Services system, the first phase of fiber optics will also have hook up points at various doctors’ offices, Seaford City Hall/Fire Department, the future City Hall location, three schools, the Seaford Police Department, the Seaford Industrial Park, The Western Sussex Boys & Girls Club and the city’s electric department and various electric substations. The cost of the total project (9 cable-miles) is estimated to be about $280,000). Thomas said using city employees to install the cable lines would reduce some of that cost. Seaford electric department staff and management have been in contact with staff in the City of Milford. Milford has experience with fiber optics and the Seaford employees were able to be on hand to observe how the fiber optics is installed. Thomas said Milford is able to install a mile of fiber cable in a day. He said given this scenario, Seaford should be able to get its fiber optics cable run within a week to 10 days. He said Milford has also offered to help with Seaford’s project. Slatcher said fiber optics might not be an immediate revenue generator, such as Seaford’s electric service, but having the fiber optics system available is a major selling point to large businesses that may seek to locate in the city. “In the event of de-regulation of electric services, having fiber optics availability in Seaford can be a big attraction to commercial entities,” she said. Councilman Larry Miller who chairs the Seaford Electric Committee, said this is a great opportunity for the city. “We have an opportunity to come on line with a sophisticated technology that can certainly have the potential to benefit our police and industrial park. We have our largest employee (NHS) willing to help us get into this service. This is a way for us to get into this business at a much more reasonable cost,” he said. Councilman Ed Butler, concerned about the costs involved with the project, questioned whether this may be a case in which the city was being “pushed into this.” Miller responded, saying, “We should have been out seeking this to start with. We are not being pushed. I don’t get pushed into anything,” he said. Councilwoman Pat Andrews questioned why it was necessary to purchase a system with 96 fibers, when information she read stated there were systems with as few as 24 fibers at a reduced cost. Slatcher said the city is taking a “middle of the road” approach. There are systems with up to 288 fibers. The 96-fiber system is in the middle. “You don’t want to short yourself when dealing with something like fiber optics. There is a market for this. We want to put up as much as we can. You want to increase your potential, not short yourself,” she said. The council voted 3-2 to approve moving forward with the fiber optics project and with developing an agreement with Nanticoke Health Services for leasing 24 fibers in the city’s prospective system. Butler and Andrews cast the opposing votes.

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