Give Me Your Land, I'll Give You My Fiber

Maryland gets a distance- learning and smart highway network for a song

The State of Maryland has found a novel way to avoid high phone bills.

Indeed, a recent agreement will allow the state to reap the benefits of a $32 million advanced telecommunications infrastructure in return for a long swath of dirt.

In August, Maryland signed a 40-year contract with MCI Corp. providing the state with free transmission capacity along a 67-mile stretch of state highway in return for non-exclusive rights-of-way along the same Baltimore/Washington corridor.

The contract, which called for another 8.4 miles of fiber connecting the backbone to state offices, saved taxpayers approximately $11.6 million.

On November 30, Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced the Board of Public Works had approved a modification of the original contract that would garner the state an additional $21.1 million of telecommunications goods and services in return for a little more safe passage.

Under the contract modification, MCI will activate the fiberoptic wires along the corridor at no cost. In return, the state will also grant Teleport Communications Group - an MCI subcontractor - rights-of-way for its own commercial network.

For its part, TCG will supply five synchronous optical network hubs along the backbone route to provide cross-LATA (local access transport area) service to support distance-learning applications and the Maryland Department of Transportation/State Highway Administration's (MDOT/SHA) Chesapeake Highway Advisory Routing Traffic (CHART), the state's smart highway initiative.

TCG will install, maintain and replace hub equipment and software, a package deal worth $19.9 million.

The modifications also include 55 communications terminals to connect CHART cameras, highway sensors and automated warning signs to the fiberoptics backbone, worth approximately $1 million.

"Using state land resources as barter to deploy a state-of-the-art, no-cost telecommunications infrastructure is very smart business," said Schaefer.

"This capability will bring safer and more efficient highway travel to Marylanders years earlier than previously possible and allow distance learning across long-distance boundaries, avoiding $800,000 a year in long-distance fees."

Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for Maryland's Department of General Services, said the state intends to barter telcos' rights-of-way along an additional 800 to 900 miles of highway, railway and both harbor tunnels for telecommunications services.

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