CHESTERTON — Even before the town cut the ceremonial ribbon launching its high-speed fiber optics lines Wednesday at Thomas Centennial Park, more than 40 businesses had signed contracts to utilize the service.
"It means that people are desperate for high-speed broadband internet service," said Tom Carroll, senior vice president for NITCO, which has a 25-year contract with the city to manage and operate the system.
The idea to have a municipally-owned fiber optics system began five years ago. The groundbreaking was held in January.
The system is dubbed the Chesterton Fiber Optics Network or CFON.
Duneland School Corp. became the town's first customer, utilizing two gigabytes of fiber, said Tom Carroll, adding 44 companies have signed contracts.
The more than 15 miles of fiber cost the town $1.5 million to construct.
Carroll said 330 companies are being reached by the fiber optics systems and the cable is run through all the main areas of the town. It runs through the town's entire tax increment finance district.
"Part of the Redevelopment Commission's long-term goal was to bring in high-speed internet. This is just the beginning. We are going to be able to attract significant users," said Jeff Trout, chairman of the town's Redevelopment Commission.
Tom Long, president of NITCO, called Chesterton a "fiber optic-ready community," ready for business expansion and growth, location and relocation. It will, he said, create jobs and increase property values.
"This will be a turning point for the town of Chesterton in economic development," said John Nekus, president of Monroe Street Group of Chesterton, one of the consultants on the project.
Town Council member Jim Ton said the fiber optic network was the most important aspect of the town's two-pronged approach to economic development. The second prong was establishing an economic development company, which it has done.
Carroll said the fiber optics network line has 288 strands of fiber total. Of that, they have lit 144 individual strands.
The gigabyte-capable network, said Carroll, would allow someone to download a movie in one second.
Carroll said the system's size should be good for the next couple of years and they have already begun talking about plans to expand the system to allow more businesses to contract with the town as development increases.
Chesterton is the third municipality in Northwest Indiana to go live with their own fiber optics network. East Chicago launched its project in March and Valparaiso launched its ValpoNet fiber network in May.