Pictured, in orange, is the route of the county-owned fiber optic network. The blue lines are fiber the county helped install but does not own.

GOSHEN — Elkhart County officials expect to start seeing a profit on the county-owned fiber optic network in the coming years, the Redevelopment Commission has learned.

Ben Miller with Pyrsia Consulting LLC, which was hired as the dark-fiber consultant for the county, gave the commission an update recently on the fiber network. The RDC has contributed funding as the county expands its fiber network, by installing inactive lines and then leasing them out to internet service providers.

The county currently leases strands of fiber to two ISPs and there are more than 40 locations along the network, according to information from Miller. They’re trying to incentivize more ISPs to join.

Fiber lines are often laid when the county highway department carries out a road project, in order to build out the trunk that was established along C.R. 17 during major road improvements several years ago. Fiber now branches off east along C.R. 38 to Goshen, west along Mishawaka Road to Concord and Baugo schools, east along C.R. 8 to Bristol and west along C.R. 6 for a few miles.

The next round of installations will extend the Bristol line into Middlebury and make two connections, in the north and south, to data centers in South Bend. That’s expected to open up Elkhart County’s fiber to the wider world while also building in a redundancy to make it more robust.

When the South Bend connections are completed, the county will focus more on branching the system out farther, RDC members learned. That will include areas south of Goshen, which haven’t gotten much attention.

In April, County Administrator Jeff Taylor presented Elkhart County Council with a $2.7 million request to fund fiber expansion. He told the council the investment was a good economic tool and would get a better return than building roads, if not a guaranteed one.

Miller laid out the payback model over the next five to seven years during the RDC meeting.

The first one to two years is the scale-up phase, when fiber is built, equipment is bought and employees are hired. Cost recovery begins in year three, as revenue starts to support all expenditures.

The county-owned network should be sustainable past five years, when revenue is expected to exceed both operating costs and the cost of the management company, according to information from Miller.

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