In case you haven’t heard much about it lately, know that the One Maryland Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN) has been operational since October 2013.

Spanning seven counties and the cities of Baltimore and Annapolis, the ICBN provides 800 miles of fiber optic cable for low-cost lease by commercial entities and brings connectivity to 42,000 square miles of territory throughout Central Maryland.

It was designed to provide affordable, accessible high-speed broadband access to community institutions, businesses and residents in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Also know that, now that it’s actually in use, advocates say the ICBN is not only performing its primary function, but also starting to pay dividends in terms of economic development, educational innovation and quality of life enhancements.

At an October event at Reservoir High School in Fulton that demonstrated the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS)’s efforts to leverage the ICBN, County Executive Allan Kittleman highlighted the synergy made possible by the network.

“We have companies coming to Maple Lawn that were attracted by this and are going to be hiring students who come from our local schools and community colleges,” he said. “I want to thank President Obama and former County Executive Ken Ulman, because their leadership of putting this together earlier allows all of us to reap the benefits today.”

High-Speed Education

Among the innovations already undertaken at Howard County schools are a peer editing exchange with an English class on the west coast, dance classes that watch and critique other dancers around the world, participation in online games and resources during National Constitutional Day, and social media accounts for literary characters that interact to explore character analysis, development and conflict.

“Ilchester Elementary School students recently engaged in a live discussion about polar bears with scientists in Canada [to] connect what they were learning … to the work these experts are doing daily in the field,” said HCPSS Superintendent Renee Foose. “These examples highlight how our system has been providing world-class instruction, while helping students learn how to use social media and practice online etiquette and responsible digital citizenship.”

While cost, demand and resource considerations prohibit the school system from offering Chinese language courses in every high school, students in five unserved high schools can now participate in live-streamed classes taught at Marriotts Ridge High School, using web-based video conferencing software.

“Without this, I probably would have enrolled in a [private] Chinese class somewhere else,” said Reservoir High Student Kenneth Dolan, adding that he’s considering other live-streamed courses, particularly Advanced Placement U.S. History, during his junior and senior years.

There are currently 45 online courses at Reservoir, with four synchronous offerings and the remainder blended or embedded online for anytime viewing.

“They hit all of our core academic subjects,” said Bob Cole, the school’s coordinator of digital education. “We’re prioritizing other courses as we go, based on student demand and other data points.”

Making Connections

According to Chris Merdon, Howard County’s director of technology and communications services, every school in Howard County is connected to the ICBN, and Carroll County schools will also eventually reach 100% connectivity, although some schools in other counties served by the ICBN continue to use a self-provisional Institutional Network system.

Capacity level at Howard County high schools is five gigabytes per second, with middle schools and elementary schools receiving three and one gigabytes per second, respectively.

Roughly half of the schools in Anne Arundel County are connected to the ICBN.

“We’re in the process of building out the network to the rest of our schools and should be complete roughly a year from now,” said Greg Barlow, chief information officer of the Anne Arundel County Public School System.

Online instruction was available in Anne Arundel schools prior to the ICBN, he said, but the offerings are now steadily increasing, with plans to eventually increase capacity in every school to 10 gigabytes per second.

“Our bring-your-own-device plans for the future are projecting every student and staff member using two devices,” Barlow said. “We’re nowhere near saturation at one gigabyte, so our potential for leveraging the system is enormous.”

Other institutions benefiting from the ICBN in Howard County include Howard Community College, Loyola University Maryland, The Johns Hopkins University, libraries, Howard County General Hospital and Columbia Association.

Unlimited Access

In July, Main Street in Ellicott City became the first Howard County community to benefit from free outdoor Wi-Fi service via the ICBN. The project is part of a larger plan to expand Wi-Fi access across the county and is the first instance of its use outside government facilities. The Meadowbrook Athletic Complex and the outdoor fields at Troy Park, in Elkridge, also have the service.

“Internet access is a key component of our daily lives, critical to our infrastructure and a necessary tool for our economic success,” said Kittleman. “I made this a priority … because this enhanced reception allows individuals to stay connected, search for business and entertainment options and enhances the whole Main Street experience.”

According to Merdon, the county will also be working with a private partner to extend residential Wi-Fi service into underserved portions of western Howard County using the ICBN backbone.

All told, more than 1,100 anchor institutions throughout Central Maryland, including public safety entities, are now connected.

Moreover, the ICBN is within range of more than 1.8 million households, and more than 71,000 business customers.

“About a dozen businesses are currently using it in the county, Corporate Office Properties Trust has made it available for tenants in Columbia Gateway, and we’re working with St. John Properties to wire all of their commercial buildings in Maple Lawn,” Merdon said. “It’s really a powerful economic development tool, and the best part is that the ability to simply add equipment or make upgrades makes capacity essentially unlimited.”