Totally connected

Loma Linda uses a 10G optical core to provide municipal Internet access.

All-Star category: LANs & Routers.

When you think of cities on the cutting edge of technology, Loma Linda, Calif., doesn't exactly spring to mind. Yet residents and businesses in this small community 60 miles east of Los Angeles have easier and less-expensive access to higher-speed broadband connectivity than most.

"We became the fastest Internet city in North America because we focused on getting started and became committed to getting it built. Residents and businesses have connectivity that's faster and more resilient than all but a handful of scientific and Fortune 15 data centers in the world," says James Hettrick, IS director for Loma Linda.

Such connectivity, not to mention initiative, earns the city of Loma Linda a 2006 Enterprise All-Star Award.

Connecting a community

Loma Linda's Connected Community Program began in late 2003, when the City Council mandated data connectivity in all living and working spaces. It approved a groundbreaking law, updating the city's residential and commercial wiring codes to require builders to include structured wiring and standard fiber-optic technology in new construction and any existing buildings with 50% or more of their structure being remodeled. This would enable these buildings to connect to one of multiple fiber-optic rings that the city would install around the city.

Today, the Connected Community Program is well underway. The city has built a symmetrical fiber-optic network capable of 10Gbps at the core and 1Gbps at the end nodes. It uses Allied Telesis' fiber-to-the-home product line, which includes switches and routers.

The city sees broadband as a way to improve the quality of life and draw more economic development, particularly in medical research and related industries. With only about 20,000 residents, Loma Linda was underserved by broadband providers for too long, Hettrick says. But the area is a medical research mecca with a sophisticated, well-educated population. With large medical institutions such as the Loma Linda University Medical Center and the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veterans Medical Center, the population of Loma Linda swells to 60,000 during the day.

"We became the fastest Internet city in North America because we focused on getting started and became committed to getting it built."

- james hettrick, is director, loma linda

"These statistics drive a different level of decision making," Hettrick says. "So we started looking into offering connectivity and smart Internet access."

At the Loma Linda University Medical Center, many buildings meet the city's new requirements because they've strung industry-standard wiring. In addition, Loma Linda University is building a $50 million distance-learning facility that falls under the new mandate.

The Connected Community Program will help the medical institutions connect not only with each other but also with third-party medical-services businesses and offices, such as pharmacies, that are scattered around the community. Plus, the network will let the medical centers connect and work with entities worldwide. The distance-learning center, for example, will let students from about 15 foreign countries take classes from the university, Hettrick says.

The network and services

For the network, the city has deployed four self-healing, fiber-optic rings and their associated intermediate distribution frames (IDF) throughout residential neighborhoods and business parks. The IDFs contain the hardware to partition the fiber, as well as fire protection, battery backup and room for third-party equipment.

The rings cost $4 million, Hettrick says, and he estimates that all the development that occurs within the rings is worth about $8 million. "So we are getting a 2-to-1 return on assets deployed," he says.

Through co-location, the network can support virtually any service or application. For example, VPN gear, co-located at an IDF and working in conjunction with the city's Allied Telesis Layer 3 switches, could provide virtual private networks for users anywhere, including in their homes, Hettrick says. This is particularly useful for medical experts who might want to do research at home but need a secure connection, he says. The cost is much less than a commercial carrier would charge to install a T1 line, he adds.

Initially, the city is offering high-speed Internet access as it would any utility, Hettrick says. Residents can sign up for 5Mbps service for $30 per month. Rates of 10Mbps and 15Mbps cost $50 and $100 per month, respectively. These speeds far exceed what's typically available from DSL, cable or T1 services, and adoption rates have been running above 50% among commercial users and new residences, he says.

But high-speed Internet access is "just a small subset of what this network can do," Hettrick says. Because the city owns the network, it can leverage it for all sorts of city functions, such as controlling traffic lights. Loma Linda also is rolling out wireless access points to provide more connectivity options to city field workers and residents. And it intends to bring in commercial providers of VoIP, video on demand, alarm-system monitoring, safety systems and perhaps IP-based television as well, he adds.

No doubt, the network gives the small town of Loma Linda a certain cachet. As Hettrick says: "We are a small city who knows who we are."

Harbert is a freelance writer in Rockville, Md. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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