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New broadband network being proposed through Hubbard County

A Virginia-based telecommunications giant is proposing a Chicago to Seattle broadband network that would traverse Hubbard County.

"We're proposing actually building what's called a broadband backbone," said Kristin Shulman, XO Communications Inc.'s vice president for external affairs.

"Right now as we understand it, the fiber optics in the ground along that route are pretty old, essentially running out of capacity, and even if the companies that own that wanted to upgrade it, the glass that's in the ground isn't really capable of handling the latest electronics," Shulman said.

"So we are thinking that five, 10, 15 years out, that the demand for broadband all the way across the board is growing substantially and the country needs to get ahead of it and put that broadband backbone in place now."

The proposal, called Northern Lights Broadband, is estimated to cost as much as $250-300 million, will come before the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners today. The company is asking local governments affected to send letters of support to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

XO is seeking federal stimulus monies to build. It s proposal is due March 26.

"The facility there today is not going to do it, not going to make it and with the high construction costs, our feeling is that without government money no private company will build it on their own," Shulman said.

The proposal would offer 100 megabytes of capacity per customer, a proposal recently suggested by Google as anticipated future use.

Local use would entail high-definition video/audio distance learning; it would connect classrooms to broadband capable of supporting online learning and remote tutoring; it would support health care oriented professional development; provide telemedicine applications; allow job seekers to access job postings and online training; enhance broadband services to homes by last mile providers and enhance business broadband services by last mile providers.

"So what we're going to do doesn't actually touch into each community per se, but the carriers that are already there, the telecom providers, the broadband providers, that are already there today would be able to get even broader, higher speed broadband access because of the facility we're planning on putting in," Shulman said.

Hubbard County would not incur any of the costs, but is asked to pledge support for the projects so XO can justify the costs and scope to the Commerce Department, said county coordinator Jack Paul.

The company is seeking the approval to pursue the stimulus finds, Shulman said.

Unserved areas in the northern part of Hubbard County would likely be able to tap into the cable.

"It depends on who your carriers are, or telecom providers, where they're located and whether they can meet us somewhere along that route," Shulman said. "We have a 25-mile buffer along that side of it so there are ways and it depends on who you're working with and what they want to do."

The company, formed in 1996, has more than 4,000 employees and $1.48 billion in assets, its Web site says.