Sewer-band Internet could come to your town

Quincy, Ill., tests the sewers for providing Internet service. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

Back in the Victorian era, connecting one’s home to the sewer was a smelly proposition (and seen as a potentially dangerous idea). Only the most cutting-edge Victorians dared to do it.

Today another type of cutting edge project involving sewer-to-home connections is gaining traction: using these lines to provide broadband to homes. Fortunately, broadband isn’t smelly.

Quincy, Ill. began testing such a pilot project Sept. 21. The testing concludes Sept. 24. On Oct. 24, the city will begin evaluating the system, encompassing 1,300 feet of sewer, reported Government Technology.

The pilot project will not connect to any homes or businesses, reported the Quincy Herald-Whig newspaper earlier this month.

"We decided, after all the due diligence was done with our legal folks and my council, that we would allow [i3 Group Ltd., the technology provider] to come in and test a part of what they do," said Quincy Mayor John Spring in the Government Technology report. "We're looking forward to it."

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Deployment is free for the town, although the city will provide support, such as traffic control, during the installation, reported the Quincy Herald-Whig. "The way this works is they will sell access to their network," said Alderman Paul Havermale. I3’s cost for the pilot is about $50,000, the paper reported.
The pilot project in Quincy is the first for i3 America, a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based i3 Group, in the U.S. market. I3’s Fibrecity uses super fast cable, otherwise known as fiber-to-the-home. The network would have a standard service of up to 100 megabits/sec, 10 times faster than a typical cable connection, with the option of increasing speed to up to 1 gigabit/sec, reported the Quincy Whig-Herald. The company is rolling out Fibrecity networks in England and Scotland and is also running a pilot program in Austrialia.

Alasdair Rettie, technical director at the i3 Group, said in published reports that using existing conduits such as an installed sewer system for installing a fiber-optic network can reduce costs by 30 to 50 percent over traditional installation methods and is less disruptive as well. Two traditional methods of installing fiber include trenching – digging a three-foot channel in the public right of way—and microtrenching – digging a channel about half an inch wide and less than a foot deep.

There are concerns, however, regarding the system: specifically, water and sewer line breaks, which could potentially break a cable, and weather, which could delay installation of the network. Last year, Quincy had approximately 52 breaks in both its water and sewer systems. A few weeks ago, a break closed a heavily traveled street for about four days. Rettie said i3's installation methods minimize such risks, according to the Government Technology report.