Public-benefit corporation and network operator Axcess Ontario uses the term “fiber ring” to describe the 200-mile communications network it just completed building in Ontario County, N.Y. According to an announcement that the organization issued today, the new network–which was constructed at a cost of $5.5 million–is “comprised of dark fiber, provides no services and therefore does not compete with private-sector telecom and broadband companies.” Instead, broadband and telecom service providers sign master agreements with Axcess Ontario to use the ring to provide services at competitive rates. Axcess Ontario said it already has signed eight such master agreements.

“Our mission from the outset was to ensure that every community in Ontario County had access to fiber, no matter how remote that community might be, geographically speaking,” said Geoff Astles, chairman of Axcess Ontario’s board of directors in the announcement. “We’re proud to say that not only have we accomplished that piece, but we’ve done it under budget.” The original cost targeted for the project was $7.5 million, Axcess Ontario said.

The strategy that Astles describes sounds like what policymakers have begun to refer to as an “open access” and “middle mile” approach. The idea behind open access middle mile networks–including numerous projects that received funding through the broadband stimulus program–is to support high-speed connectivity between remote communities and points of presence where those communities can access nationwide high-speed networks. Unlike the stimulus-funded projects, however, the Axcess Ontario network was constructed without federal or state funding.

As with the stimulus-funded open access middle mile projects, Axcess Ontario hopes to jump-start investment in “last mile” fiber-to-the-home networks by helping to ensure that those networks will have sufficient backhaul capacity. According to the announcement, Axcess Ontario has been working to lure an FTTH provider for more than a year and along with other efforts, has submitted an application to Google to become a Google Fiber community.

One organization that has had success with an open access middle mile approach is Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, which was recognized by President Obama as an example of how a publicly-supported middle-mile broadband network can bring economic and social benefits to unserved, underserved, and economically disadvantaged communities.

Axcess Ontario credits much of its $2 million cost savings to a lease agreement with Ontario Telephone Co., an incumbent local carrier.

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