With surging need for bandwidth, top public CIOs see urgent need for cooperation

With surging need for bandwidth, top public CIOs see urgent need for cooperation

State of Wisconsin Chief Information Officer David Cagigal has a simple goal: To “never spend another dollar” on laying optical fiber cable for data projects involving state government and its partners.

If that sounds unrealistic, consider that millions of miles of “dark fiber” – meaning, high-bandwidth fiber not in use – already exist in the United States. Even that’s just an estimate because the fiber installation glut of the early 2000s led to myriad network bankruptcies, and today’s successor companies don’t always know where all the fiber is buried.

Finding and lighting dark fiber will help Wisconsin prepare for the predicted bandwidth crunch brought on by the “Internet of Things” and the explosion in mobile devices, Cagigal and UW-Madison Chief Information Officer Bruce Maas told a July 28 meeting of the Wisconsin Innovation Network.

They also cautioned they can’t – and will not – go it alone.

“Wisconsin will only do well if we are working together instead of competing,” said Maas, who leads the university’s data transmission and storage efforts. “It shouldn’t just rest on the backs of the private sector, because we’re all in this together.”

The UW-Madison campus itself is an IT networker’s dream, with fast, 100-gigabit connections that allow transmission of massive amounts of research data. The UW-Madison can receive 30 to 40 gigabits of data from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland for analysis in Wisconsin, to cite one prominent example.

Moving much smaller amounts of data to businesses, schools and libraries closer to home is a different matter.

“What we don’t have is the ability to connect to schools all over the state where there is some college education taking place (as well as) libraries and places such as tribal reservations. We need to crack that nut in Wisconsin,” Maas said. “Other states have figured this out and the ones that have done it have set aside their differences between the public and private sectors…”

With a largely private-sector background, Cagigal joined the state Department of Administration three years ago. He said one of the first things he did was reach out to Maas to see how they could cooperate.

The call for cooperation is driven by the need to ensure that Wisconsin doesn’t fall behind other states and the world in terms of high-speed broadband connections, which are necessary for virtually every aspect of modern life, from business to health care, and from education to entertainment.

The Internet of Things is one force pushing Internet use. The IoT describes devices communicating with other devices in a variety of settings, such as industry and transportation. Internet capacity is also being strained by video in its many forms. Video consumes huge amounts of bandwidth and most Internet service providers are struggling to keep up through investments in wireless networks and other backbone services.

“(The Internet of Things) is going to require massive amounts of capacity for carrying data,” Maas said, noting that businesses will increasingly “send tons and tons of data everywhere and we’ve got to be able to have the capacity.”

Some progress in better connecting Wisconsin is being made. Recently announced was a Gigabit Business Park mapping project that involved the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the Wisconsin State Telephone Association, which identified more than 130 business sites with 1 to 100 gigabits of bandwidth per second.

Cagigal said 350 Wisconsin libraries in Wisconsin were connected to the Internet via high-speed fiber in the last year, including many in rural communities. The recently passed state budget cleared the way for better connections into thousands of Wisconsin schools, a project that Cagigal explained cannot happen without public and private cooperation.

That includes learning and sharing where dark fiber exists and signing contracts with carriers, large and small, with more competitive rates. “We need everyone’s fiber,” said Cagigal, who noted he is already seeing signs that private carriers are understanding the need to form public partnerships.

In many Wisconsin cities, schools, libraries and other public facilities are the only places where high-speed connections exist. By working off that backbone, carriers can help businesses in more remote settings gain the bandwidth they need, too. All of Wisconsin needs better broadband connections to compete – and that need will only increase in the years to come.


Recent articles by Tom Still

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WTN Media LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.