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Deal leaves Franklin nearly blanketed with fiber-optic cable

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High-speed Internet lines will run past every home and business in three Johnson County communities once a utility project is complete.

Communications company Metronet has spent $17 million so far locally installing fiber-optic cable, or hair-thin strands of glass that can quickly transmit large amounts of data. The company is in the process of running 150 miles of cable down every residential block and past every storefront in Franklin, Whiteland and New Whiteland.

Franklin is giving the company a break on its property taxes over the next two decades because of the size of the investment and the creation of a fiber-optic network that any home or small business could hook directly onto, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said. Other companies have local fiber-optic lines, but none currently offers connections to every home, he said.

Making high-speed Internet more widely available could allow entrepreneurs to start companies in their own homes and help attract new businesses to the city, McGuinness said. For instance, manufacturers that use automated technology would benefit from fiber-optic hookups, and city officials can use the infrastructure as a selling point while trying to lure new businesses, he said.

What is fiber optic?

Metronet, a phone, Internet and cable provider, is installing fiber-optic lines in Franklin, Whiteland and New Whiteland.

Project: Installing $20 million of fiber-optic wire in Franklin, Whiteland and New Whiteland.

What fiber optic is: Hair-thin glass wires that transmit data.

What fiber optic does: Carries huge amounts of data at 186,000 miles per second by changing the colors of light.

Existing fiber optic: Phone company CenturyLink has about 175 miles of fiber-optic lines that go to businesses, schools and Johnson Memorial Hospital; electric utility Johnson County REMC also is installing lines through the Franklin Tech Park and to unincorporated parts of the county.

Plans: Metronet will extend fiber-optic cables directly to homes and small businesses.

With the incentive, Evansville-based Metronet gets to keep the property taxes paid on every foot of line that’s put in the ground. The tax break was set up so it applies to all the line that will be installed in Whiteland and New Whiteland as well, said Cheryl Morphew, Johnson County Development Corp. chief executive officer and president.

Schools, libraries and other local governments would not collect about $2.75 million of property tax dollars on those cables over the next 25 years. The company would use the money to repay investors; and, after 25 years, it would pay property taxes.

Metronet, which has been in the fiber-optic business since the 1970s, chose to invest in Franklin, Whiteland and New Whiteland because of the demographics, the level of interest in the community and the willingness of local governments to help with the cost of the project, consultant Steve Biggerstaff said. The company has installed fiber-optic in 11 other smaller Indiana communities that can be connected directly to homes, he said.

Metronet has installed underground lines throughout Franklin and soon will start running overhead lines on utility poles across the city, Biggerstaff said. Work is expected to start soon in Whiteland and New Whiteland.

Franklin has not offered a similar property tax break to any other utility companies, Franklin telecommunications council president Frank Schumacher said.

But existing telecommunications utilities Comcast and CenturyLink also got incentives from the city, he said. The city gave those utilities franchise rights that gave them exclusive monopolies for decades, before federal law required more competition, Schumacher said.

“They had 100 percent of the residents in town who wanted telephone or cable services,” he said. “A lot of people think we’re giving something away, but the existing companies got much better incentives and concessions before, so I felt no guilt about recommending tax incentives in this case.”

Another utility offers more choices and competition among Internet, phone and television providers, which could result in lower prices and better service, he said.

Metronet won’t be the first to install the fiber-optic technology in Johnson County, but existing lines run mainly to the hospital, business parks and other large users of data, Schumacher said.

AT&T has lines in Greenwood, while CenturyLink has 175 miles of fiber optic in the Franklin area. Johnson County REMC also is installing fiber optic in the part of the county outside any city or town to get information faster from its customers’ meters.

CenturyLink spokesman Jack Moore said the company would extend fiber-optic lines directly to any business that requests them but had no plans to run fiber directly to homes. CenturyLink instead offers a satellite-based television service through DISH Network and provides Internet service, Moore said.

CenturyLink is focusing on giving customers different speeds at different prices, he said.

Johnson County REMC Chief Executive Officer Chet Aubin said the utility had no immediate plans to offer Internet or other communications services and would do so only in rural areas if it later decided to branch off into that area.

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