Gigabit networks top

To drive the next generation of economic success and improvements in our quality of life, Montgomery County should create ultra high-speed (100+ gigabits per second), ultra reliable, and ultra secure networks that connect our own centers of research and economic activity -- our innovation districts -- with similar centers around the region and globe. The networks, located in places such as White Oak, the Great Seneca Science Corridor, Bethesda and Silver Spring, will attract new entrepreneurs and employers to create data-intensive jobs in our community as well as enable our residents to enjoy the benefits of a lifestyle powered by emerging technology.

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With services such as Verizon FIOS and Comcast Xfinity, Montgomery County already benefits from higher speed networks than many communities around the country. But the level of service proposed in this document is a generation ahead of what is available today. As computer and cloud-based applications demand increasing bandwidth, the next generation network will have gigabit speeds.

The great opportunity for Montgomery County is to build ultra high-speed networks that directly connect our major regional research institutions -- FDA, NIST, NIH, NOAA, HHS and others -- thereby allowing companies to provide data-intensive services to those institutions or use information provided by the institutions for applications that have commercial value. In other words, a local company could conduct health research connecting with FDA or NIH as well as a research team at the University of Maryland, or a company could conduct climate research connecting with NOAA and a team at a university overseas.

For as long as fiber networks have been around, the primary challenge in their deployment has been reaching the "last mile" to get inside the building, which can be very expensive. Overcoming these challenges and others will be the key to the successful deployment of fiber in Montgomery County's innovation districts.

Innvoation Districts

Innovation Districts are defined by Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution as follows:

"geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. They are also physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired and offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail." 2

In the abstract, the concept is really quite simple. The proposed "last mile" fiber networks themselves will first connect to middle mile fiber in the county that connect to a "meet-me-point" or similar connection in the innovation district. Second, the fiber will interconnect the buildings inside the districts thereby connecting them to major research centers in the region, across the country and internationally. The County will work to facilitate a competitive market in which tenants will be able to choose from broadband providers. This arrangement would avoid the need for providers to build duplicative, competing infrastructure, and hopefully more competitive pricing for consumers. The networks would also be open to services provided by County Government as well as utilities, such as Pepco or a microgrid. Fiber is an essential ingredient for smart grids. See the map below for some of the current and proposed middle-mile fiber in the County.

Montgomery County Technology Parks and Fiber Connections

A White Oak "Innovation District" top

In White Oak, Montgomery County envisions up to 10 million square feet of new development, including the Percontee/County joint development site of 300 acres. This site is intended to create a live-work-play community that, according to the original RFP by the county, will create a "World Class Bio/Life Sciences, Education, and Research Community where the brightest and best regulators, researchers, professors, students and medical professionals can meet and share ideas, research and information that will lead to continuing technological, scientific and medical advancements."

In Brief: Fiber Optic Networks

A fiber optic network is among the fastest, secure, and reliable ways to transit information from one point to another. It works by sending light pulses from one transmitter to a receiver through fiber. These light pulses are transformed into data by the receiver. See the diagram below for a quick overview.

Fiber Optic Diagram

Fiber optic networks are widely used by the telecommunications industry to send and receive telephone signals, internet communications, and cable television signals. Local governments, including Montgomery County, use fiber for their traffic management, emergency, and other communications systems.

The White Oak Science Gateway is also a unique opportunity to deploy this concept because much of the plan area has not been built out -- it is essentially a greenfield (though much of it is a gravel pit). And it is partly under the control of the county. The cost of this infrastructure will be less if the vision is spelled out from the beginning, which is why planning and general development agreement for the Percontee/Montgomery County project will need to consider the fiber needs of the buildings and tenants. The County will need to work with property owners inside White Oak and also collaborate with broadband service and equipment providers to facilitate the design and build-out of the connections to various buildings (whether residential or commercial), facilitate access to in-building wiring, designate interconnection hubs, and provide operating facilities for the networks. The work to design the buildings could form the basis of a "broadband building code," such as what is being discussed on the national level. This project is an exciting opportunity to contribute to national progress.

Other factors favor White Oak for deployment of this fiber network. It is located in proximity to a high speed "long fiber" data pipeline that runs up the Eastern Seaboard, high speed regional broadband networks already in use, as well as planned data networks that will be built along the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway, and Bus Rapid Transit lines. These networks will connect major research and economic centers in the county, region and globally. The White Oak Science Gateway should connect to those networks. The diagram below shows the proposed "middle mile" fiber along the Purple Line with the corresponding access points, which the County Executive's team is already requesting should be included in the Purple Line construction.

Building this communications infrastructure will give the White Oak Science Gateway a competitive advantage for attracting research companies that need high speed data service that is secure and reliable. Connecting the network to the University of Maryland, to federal labs such as FDA, NIST, NIH, NOAA and others will enable the county to maximize its locational advantages from the federal labs as well as regional educational institutions. Industries such as health IT, data analytics, health research (for example, clinical trial data analysis), cybersecurity, and others will gain advantages by locating in White Oak.

The County Council added the following language to the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, proposed by Councilmember Riemer:

"An important component of the infrastructure and community facilities for the White Oak Science Gateway will be a high speed, highly reliable, highly secure communications fiber network connecting buildings inside the district and then connecting the district itself to major research centers in the region, across the country and internationally."

To make the White Oak vision a reality, County officials will need to develop a precise plan and add it to the agreement that will be negotiated with the property developer for the joint development of the Percontee and Montgomery County sites in White Oak.

An investment that pays off top

Montgomery County has been a leader in attracting, creating and retaining high-tech businesses and jobs. The presence of federal agencies, such as the FDA, NIST, NIH, NOAA, a significant private sector toehold in the industries, and highly educated resident base make the life-, earth-, bio- and cybersecurity science research industries a critical component of the county's economic fabric. As part of its ongoing commitment to sustainable and robust economic development, it is imperative for the county to plan for the current and future infrastructure needs of these industries.

Select Major Research Institutions in the County

  • John Hopkins University
  • University of Maryland
  • MedImmune (Astra Zeneca)
  • Adventist Healthcare
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • National Cancer Institute (NCI)

Now more than ever, the life-, earth-, bio- and cybersecurity science research industries are taking advantage of, and indeed shaping, the data revolution. The availability of large data sets from both the private and public sectors, advanced computing power, the ability to capture and process data in real time, and importantly, the analytical tools to draw meaningful insights from the data are stimulating new commercial and research opportunities in these industries. For instance, the National Cancer Institute of NIH, which is located in the Greater Seneca Science Corridor, has a program that studies the genetic origins of cancer. This type of research, made possible by the Human Genome Project, is incredibly data and network intensive.

Of course, for companies to participate in this data revolution requires that they have access to super high-speed broadband networks.

In addition to the prospect of economic development, the proposed fiber networks advance a number of important county goals. First, they ensure competition—to the extent there is true competition in the industry—for broadband providers. The major and minor providers alike will be able to access space in the fiber conduit and compete to sell their services to the tenants of the buildings. Second, they will also enable a residential community to arise that can take maximum advantage of data technology, providing community members with new opportunities for working at home, creating wifi-enabled public spaces, and building broadband networks that can manage devices and information to improve daily living, entertainment, energy management and smart-grid utility services.

The public sector's role top

What is the appropriate role for the Montgomery County Government to play in the deployment of the proposed "last mile" fiber networks? This remains a very open question with many details and options to be sorted out. But it is clear that the county will need to work actively to promote, encourage, and facilitate deployment in the White Oak Science Gateway and the Greater Seneca Science Corridor, Bethesda (up and down MD 355) and Silver Spring; and to establish the direct connection of those networks to our major research institutions.

The county can and should lend its planning and fiber network operations expertise to the development of the networks, including the leasing of additional fiber made available through an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant.

This plan will need to identify how the county can make available public assets, further expedite permitting, and even negotiate with utility pole owners to facilitate aerial construction.3 Some examples of public assets useful in the deployment of fiber are rights-of-way, leasing space on existing public sector fiber, and access to secure spaces for equipment on County property.

The county could require through the building code4 or by incentivizing, measures to ensure that property owners build or renovate their buildings so they are "fiber-ready." This means having the necessary network space, conduit, risers, and equipment closets for the fiber. Installing these components within and outside of the building at the time of new construction lowers the incremental cost significantly, relative to retrofitting the building later. Ensuring that these fiber components get into new construction and renovation projects can be achieved through building code requirements like the city of Sandy, Oregon5 does or the county could contemplate incentives, such as tax credits.

The county can also explore financing mechanisms from outright ownership to a public-private partnership to strictly private ownership and everything in between. There are tradeoffs for each option, and the eventual decision will largely be dictated by the specific circumstances and cost benefit calculations for each district.

For each of our innovation districts, the County will need to play a leadership role in forming collaborative partnerships with the major federal institutions, non-profit, and private-sector companies to leverage the ultra high-speed connections. Specifically, the County will need a better understanding how federal agencies, such as the FDA and NIH, could use the next-gen applications made possible by the ultra high-speed networks. Then, the County should use these partnerships to attract businesses to build those applications in each innovation districts. The challenge is great, but the rewards could be substantial for the continued growth in the County's economic base.

Moving forward top

Jobs for our future. To put it simply, the primary goal of the fiber network envisioned by this white paper is to attract more good quality, high-tech jobs and businesses to the county. If the County is serious about creating innovation districts with our federal and private partners, then ultra high-speed, highly reliable and secure fiber networks must be designed and implemented.

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