VALPARAISO | Nowadays when companies are looking to locate in a community it's interested in more than taxes, workforce or utilities.

It wants access to fiber, dark fiber — technology infrastructure offering high-speed Internet bandwidth at a reduced cost. South Bend, Mishawaka and the St. Joseph County region has Metronet Zing — a dark fiber network.

By December Valparaiso could be adding dark fiber of its own.

The Valparaiso Metronet Project started coming to life in March 2014 when the city's Redevelopment Commission saw a need for it to attract businesses. It hired Bryan Baker, of ComControl Inc., of South Bend, to investigate if a fiber network was feasible. He said it was.

"We’ve found that with all the transcontinental fiber that comes along the south side of the lake here, the only thing lacking is access routes to it," Baker said.

Baker said Valparaiso is well positioned for a fiber line with its backbone along Ind. 49 where it can reach four transcontinental carriers in a single run.

ComControl administrated the high-speed system for the South Shore commuter rail line when that was built and did the project in South Bend in 2003, which would be fairly identical for the one in Valparaiso.

"It's been very successful for them," Baker said.

Dark fiber is extra unlit fiber cables that once "lit up" could provide at minimum 1 gigabyte per second.

"You're instantly on the same playing field as most of your major cities," Baker said. "Without it you don't even make the short list of site selectors."

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Baker said some of their projects have produced upward of 70 percent savings for corporate, mid-size and small business bandwidth. ComControl has had projects in half a dozen communities and every one had a need for more bandwidth, Baker said.

"And once they get more they want more," he said. "It’s a never ending cycle."

Businesses in Valparaiso would be offered access to the dark fiber and allowed to negotiate their own bandwidth allotment and cost.

Valparaiso City Economic Director Patrick Lyp said potential businesses that could benefit include the medical industry, one of the highest users of bandwidth.

St. Mary's Medical Center's Valparaiso Health Center, which opened in 2013, is already on board.

"We'll be connecting to it," said Gary Weiner, vice president, information technology and CIO for Community Healthcare System. "It will provide us with high bandwidth at a lower cost. St. Mary's is committed to the Valparaiso community and the investment in this infrastructure for high-speed bandwidth connectivity will enable future growth."

Currently the city has Technology Dynamics completing engineering design work. Requests for proposals to install the fiber will be issued in October. Responses will be reviewed in November and should the RDC conclude that the fiber project is both needed and economically feasible, work could commence.

Lyp said although the fiber project will be a public asset, it will not be a city utility in the traditional sense. His vision is of a nonprofit entity being established to oversee, leverage and maximize the value to the city. The city would still have substantial involvement — especially until the RDC is repaid for its investment.

The city is also open to partnerships that "bring value and make sense."

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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.