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On the fiber fast lane 

Monroe County and the City of Rochester are poised to hire a Denver-based firm to study their fiber networks and to help them figure out whether they could open the systems to outside users.

Magellan Advisors has worked with several cities — from Riverside, California, to Hudson, Ohio, — to assess the state of their fiber networks, to help them plan improvements, or to develop new fiber systems.

The firm was one of three to respond to a county request for proposals, and the cost of the $75,000 contract will be split evenly between the county and the city. City Council is set to approve the city's share next week, while the County Legislature approved its share in June. Former County Executive Maggie Brooks and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announced the joint project in November.

"Ultimately the city and county just want to know the state of what we have and what potential there is for efficiency improvements," says city spokesperson Jessica Alaimo. "The consultant will provide recommendations on how we may tap into and utilize any excess fiber capacity to improve its value to the taxpayers."

The two governments control a total of three fiber networks: the city owns a small network while the county owns one network and will soon acquire another. They want to know how much capacity the systems provide, and they want to find ways to make the systems operate more efficiently, which would increase capacity.

Officials assume that the networks have plenty of unused capacity, but they need to know for sure before they start letting new users tap in. One of the county networks complicates the overall picture, however.

The county's Pure Waters division has over the course of several years laid an extensive fiber network throughout the county. The 367 miles of fiber cable snake through the city and deep into the suburbs.

"Pure Waters pretty much dropped fiber every time they opened a manhole," says county spokesperson Bill Napier.

This is mostly good. Monroe County essentially has a publicly-controlled fiber backbone, which is something that many communities can't claim. County and city officials say that it's a serious advantage in an increasingly high-tech economy.

But because the network was pieced together over time and not designed and built all at once, the county doesn't know how much capacity the network can provide. Pure Waters dropped 12-strand cables in some places, and higher-capacity 144-strand cables in others, Napier says.

The county will get its second network when it buys the assets of the dissolving Monroe Security and Safety Systems local development corporation. The assets include a fiber network that was built recently as part of a massive public safety communications upgrade.

That network was built to spec, so it's uniform and officials know its capabilities, Napier says.

Ultimately, the assessment is meant to give county and city policy makers reliable information that they can use to make decisions regarding the networks, Napier says.

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