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Digging the Information Highway

Road by road, broadband Internet is snaking your way

What are they doing on the side of the road?    
    They’re cutting trees and bush-hogging to clear a path. They’re trenching a couple of feet into the earth along roadways. They’re feeding bright orange conduit into those trenches. They’re threading fiber optic cable into the conduit. They’re bringing the world to your door, those men and women working inches from your speeding car.
    The peripatetic roadwork up and down Solomons Island Road in Anne Arundel County — and simultaneously in Baltimore, Howard and Prince George’s counties — is bringing us Maryland’s Inter-County Broadband Network.
    That high-speed network will eventually branch into every county in Maryland, with funds from the federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
    What does all this work on the side of the road mean for you?
    The Internet boom has made so much information available that the old-fashioned ethernet cables many of us use are not big enough to carry it all.
    That’s why you’re twiddling your thumbs while waiting for your computer to download pages layered with scads of information in all sorts of formats — words, photos, videos, links. It takes forever, or so it seems to our speeding expectations.
    Think of the information being fed to your computer as if it were coming through a garden hose. Only so much water can flow through the hose’s inch diameter.
    By comparison, broadband feeds your computer through a 12-inch water main. Lots more data can flow in — and much faster. You’ll be flooded.
    Ironically, the technology has made the transmission wires much smaller. Today’s fiber optic cables are no thicker than hairs, but they carry vastly more data than the hard copper they replace.
    Big things are coming your way, via your Internet provider. Just as you’re not supposed to hijack your cable television, you can’t go out and hook up to this big information hose. You subscribe to this high-speed broadband network.
    But not just yet.
    Anchor institutions — primarily schools and libraries, colleges and county buildings — will get the first hookups. But eventually, it will reach into our neighborhoods and homes.
    The goal is to bring broadband service to nearly two million households and 443,000 businesses in Maryland, through 1,043 miles of new fiber backbone, 251 miles of lateral backbone connections and 1,006 community anchor institutions.
    The high-tech infrastructure being threaded through trenches along Maryland roadways is so powerful that it will support our information addiction for decades to come. So when you’re looking at this roadwork, you’re looking into the future