Fiber optics work connecting county
March 09, 2013 10:40 AM
by RANDY WELLS

Some Indiana County residents have recently been curious about utility crews working in their neighborhoods and attaching another cable to poles near their homes.

Some of those residents have been interested enough to stroll out and inquire about what the linemen are doing. And when they find out, many have asked, “How do I get some of that?”

The crews are from Salsgiver Inc., of Freeport, and they’re stringing 88 miles of fiber optics cable around the county. Most of the fiber optics is being hung on existing utility poles, but some of it is being installed underground.

The Salsgiver crews are working for the county, and the fiber optics line they’re installing will connect seven of the 14 transmission towers in the county’s upgraded $16 million public safety radio system used by police, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency responders. The installation route laid out at the county’s direction will not only connect radio towers but also take the fiber optics line close to all county-owned offices and properties, including the airport, jail and county parks.

There are 96 strands of fiber, each about the diameter of a human hair, in the finger-size bundle being installed. Only 12 of those strands are owned by the county, and only two of the county’s 12 strands will be needed for the emergency radio system. The remaining strands can be used by Salsgiver to expand broadband services — high-speed Internet, telephone and television service — to residents and businesses near the fiber optics line.

Mike Burkett, in charge of new business development for Salsgiver, said some people living along the route have come out and talked to the linemen, and when they learn what’s being installed, some want to know how they can get the fiber connected to their homes and businesses. Burkett said about 30 people have signed up to be connected to the fiber optics line even though it is not “lit” yet.

Burkett said he’s been referring people to the company’s website, www.gotlit.com, for more information on Salsgiver’s fiber optics services and costs. The website lists basic voice over IP phone service starting at $25 per month and standard residential Internet service starting at $35 per month.

Burkett said whether a home or business can be connected to the new fiber optics line depends in part on the distance from the line to the building to be connected. As residents express interest in being connected, the locations of their homes and businesses are plotted on a map so Salsgiver technicians can see concentrations of potential customers that might make connections feasible and profitable.

Tom Stutzman, director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency, said the county’s new fiber optics line generally follows Route 422 from Armstrong County into Indiana Borough. Lines then extend from Indiana along Route 119 south to Blairsville and Saltsburg and along Route 286 to Airport Road and on to Cherry Tree.

Radio towers in the network that are not connected by fiber optics are connected through microwave links.

Stutzman said the installation of the fiber optics line should be completed by the end of March. Testing of the new public safety radio system is planned for May after leaves come out on trees. EMA officials want to test the radio network under full foliage to ensure it will meet the goal of “95-95 coverage” — providing communications by handheld radio while outdoors 95 percent of the time over 95 percent of the county’s land area.

Emergency responders can now communicate by handheld radios about 60 percent of the time over 65 percent of the county’s land area.

Law enforcement agencies and emergency medical services will be the first to be switched to the new radio system. Then the county’s 700 volunteer firefighters will be trained and make the transition to the upgraded radio network. The new system must be operational by the end of September.

In addition to its 95-95 coverage, the upgraded public safety radio system will also furnish additional capacity for growth and improved interoperability — the capability of one radio system to communicate with other radio systems. And it will satisfy a Federal Communications Commission mandate for narrow-banding, intended to increase the available spectrum in the VHF and UHF land mobile radio bands.

By retaining ownership of extra fiber optics strands in the bundle, the county will be able to use its new fiber network to send Internet, telephone and TV service to county-owned facilities at little or no cost to the county. Stutzman said those savings are expected to be significant and should be realized in the 2014-15 budget year.

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