An impressive gathering of local, county and state officials, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, participated in the CarverLink Light-Up Dedication ceremony held at Waconia High School on Wednesday, Sept. 4.
CarverLink is the new fiber optic broadband system that connects all 11 cities in the county to a high-speed fiber optic network. Tim Lynch, chairman of the Carver County Board of Commissioners, opened the ceremony by presenting some background on the project, which got its start in 2008 when county officials realized that the bandwidth between county facilities was not adequate for the effective use of today’s technology.
“Since 2008, the project has evolved to what we are celebrating today — a high speed fiber optic network in partnership with city, county, school and other public facilities throughout all 11 communities in Carver County,” Lynch said. “The 89-mile redundant ring plus 33 miles of laterals connect 55 sites representing 86 community organizations.”
CarverLink is a $7.5 million project partially funded with nearly $6 million in federal stimulus grant funds through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The county provided nearly $1.5 million in funding through a draw-down of reserve funds. No debt was issued to support the project. Using cost estimates on leasing private lines to its buildings, Lynch said the county’s financial payback on owning the ring is five years.
“The county’s former network used a patchwork of lines from private vendors to connect 18 buildings,” Lynch said. “The fiber ring allows the county to centralize equipment and operations, eliminate the cost of T1 line communications, and reap the benefits of increased levels of service and capacity for growth.”
Lynch said CarverLink will provide the necessary bandwidth for the county, schools and other entities to meet technology demands not only today but well into the future.
“While CarverLink has been live for only a short time, the success stories are already coming in,” said Lynch, who cited several examples, such as before CarverLink, it might take 30 minutes for a county employee to download a file but after CarverLink, that same file can be downloaded in only seconds.
In another example, Lynch said that before CarverLink, a sheriff’s deputy could not download video recorded from a squad car without physically bringing the video to the county offices. Now, the deputy can eliminate that step and spend more time protecting the community.
Lynch explained that CarverLink also provides an open interconnect, which is designed to allow one or more private service providers access to the fiber network so they can provide broadband services to private businesses and residents. Jaguar Communications is one such private service provider that is already utilizing the CarverLink to provide private service to businesses in Carver County.
“CarverLink is a unique public / private collaboration that will increase the quality of life for county residents and open the door for economic development opportunity for businesses,” Lynch said. “The list of the immediate successes and more importantly, the future opportunities that CarverLink can offer are remarkable.”
After Lynch thanked a number of individuals and organizations for their help in turning CarverLink into a reality, he welcomed Klobuchar to the stage. Both Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken offered their support for CarverLink throughout the project. Klobuchar wrote several letters of support during the grants process and Franken sponsored successful bipartisan legislation that prioritized the expansion of broadband connectivity.
Klobuchar touched on the many ways that CarverLink will benefit citizens, businesses, first responders and more. In one example, she talked about how first responders would be able to use the technology to access and study the blueprints of buildings to be even more prepared when they arrive on the scene.
She also talked about the importance of staying on the cutting edge of technology, saying access to technology like CarverLink will be critical for the education of the next generation of innovators.
Franken was not able to attend the ceremony in person but he prepared a video message that was played during the event. Franken said the launch of CarverLink was an important day for Carver County and proved to be a great infrastructure project that will provide fantastic opportunities now and into the future.
Dr. Nancy Rajanen, superintendent of ISD 110, spoke on behalf of Waconia Public Schools and noted that CarverLink has allowed her district to expand its wireless system in all five school buildings to a large capacity system, allowing for the use of more than 1,200 student iPads and eight Project Lead the Way classes, all of which require a robust internet connection to access web-based software.
“This open fiber initiative has changed our operations. It has provided our students with opportunities to use large numbers of interactive devices that fundamentally change our instruction,” Rajanen said. “As the superintendent, I know that our students are no longer bound to the classroom as they have been in the past and I am delighted with the creative options afforded to them by a robust connectivity system.”
As noted, schools are not the only entities that will benefit from CarverLink. In Waconia, for example, City Administrator Susan Arntz said that access to CarverLink has been a positive for the city.
“We have seen data transfer between our facilities diminish significantly,” she said. “Our communications costs have reduced by almost half, which has allowed us to add wireless capabilities for the public and our own operations to the Ice Arena, City Hall, and Public Services.”
After Rajanen made her comments, a ribbon cutting was held to symbolically launch CarverLink. Following the ceremony, a group of the officials visited students in a classroom at the high school.
To learn more about CarverLink, check out the project’s update page on the county’s website (www.co.carver.mn.us).
Contact Todd Moen at [email protected]