Building a fiber network is tough, and Springs Utilities’ Internet project already has competition | News

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John Cinelli, CEO of Metronet, spoke at a press conference last month in Colorado Springs.




Ben Kley says he kept a a skeptical look at the flurry of fiber internet project announcements in Colorado Springs.

Kley, president of StratusIQ – the first company to bring “fiber to the home” and high-speed internet to Springs residents and businesses in 2007 – says building fiber networks nationwide Rocky Mountain Field City is not a simple or cheap process.

“The easiest part is putting out the press release,” Kley says. “If it was easy, people who have been in this business for 30 years would have done it too. It is not easy.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but we have to see who is able to deliver on some of the promises,” he added.

StratusIQ (formerly Falcon Broadband) operates a fiber internet network located primarily in the northeast part of the city, providing nearly 10,000 homes with high-speed internet access, a service option several companies have now pledged to provide. in all the city.

Gig-speed is the fastest, most reliable internet available, and over the next few years the Springs will slowly see it become available in most neighborhoods. At least six companies, including StratusIQ, plan this year to either build from scratch or expand their current fiber capacity to new neighborhoods.

But it all depends on who can do the job, Kley says.

“Building in Colorado is very different from building in other places in the country,” with obstacles such as rocky terrain and windstorms disrupting overhead facilities, he says. And every time a project schedule is delayed – “you’re basically losing costs.”

“They’ll all start to understand this when they actually start performing,” Kley said.

At least one of the fiber projects starting this year, led by Colorado Springs Utilities, is expected to break officials’ promise to build a fiber optic network with multiple internet service providers.

The Springs Utilities project is guaranteed to provide residents and businesses with a new ISP, Ting Internet. However, as the India reported (see “Gone Dark,” April 20), the project is not expected to provide a competitive network allowing multiple ISPs to jockey for residential and business subscribers, as Utilities originally announced.

Such competition between ISPs on the utility-owned fiber “backbone” is not the goal of the model chosen by Springs Utilities for the project, and backbones of the same model in other communities have not led to more than one new city-wide network. ISP, the India reported.

Instead, private industry is moving into the Springs to provide these options, with several companies setting out to build their own fiber infrastructure and offer high-speed internet.

Much of this fiber construction by new-to-Springs companies and current capacity expansion by so-called “incumbent” fiber Internet providers Comcast, Lumen (formerly CenturyLink) and StratusIQ, had already begun or had been mapped. before the Springs Utilities fiber project. came into the picture.

The companies will provide more internet choices for the Springs as a whole, where only about 37% of the population has access to one “fiber-to-the-home” internet provider, and only 1.15% has access to two, according to the Commission. federal communications. Broadband Availability Database, which was last updated in December 2020 and is based on self-reported data from ISPs.

The fact that Springs is so “underserved” in this regard and needs more choices for the fastest, most reliable internet option available – gig speed – is the #1 reason why Metronet, an Indiana-based private fiber optic internet builder and ISP, has decided to enter the city, said Kris Smith, the company’s director of government affairs.

Metronet announced on March 31 that it would build a $130 million fiber optic network to provide high-speed Internet access to residents and businesses within the city limits. Smith said the project has a faster completion time – two years in total – than other fiber internet builders. For example, Springs Utilities has a six-year schedule for its citywide network.

However, whether a single household or neighborhood has access to multiple providers will depend on where businesses decide it is in their best interest to build or expand.

Smith says there are rare situations where Metronet might decide not to build in a certain area or house, if it doesn’t make sense for their business model.

“A good example would be horse farms that are maybe 20 to 30 acres – it would be really hard for Metronet to say ‘it makes sense for us, through our private investment, to build up to this one, to single portion home.'”

Metronet and Underline Infrastructure Inc., two companies building fiber-to-the-home infrastructure, aspire to offer their services across the city, but it will be a gradual process to determine which neighborhoods to “light up” first based on the situation. residents’ interest in their services.

Ting will also eventually have the ability to offer every household within the city limits access to its high-speed Internet through Springs Utilities infrastructure, but they are not required to do so by their Utilities agreement.

And Comcast is bringing high-speed Internet access to about 254,000 homes starting this year using its fiber backbone (it’s not building “fiber to the home”), said Brian Thomas, vice president of the engineering for the Mountain West region of Comcast.

Leslie Oliver, senior director of communications for the region, could not provide a coverage area map for the company’s broadband services, which would outline areas that do not have access.

Lumen also did not provide a Colorado Springs coverage area map upon request.

Mark Molzen, the company’s director of global issues, wrote in an email that its “current fiber activation covers nearly every metro in Colorado Springs [ZIP] code” (Lumen officials declined an interview). Molzen said nearly 40,000 Springs residents have access to Lumen’s fastest internet speed, which is 940 megabits per second — not gig speeds.

“Lumen is in the process of rolling out multi-gig speed offerings” and will announce the rollout of this offering in the spring of 2022, Molzen said. The company will also add access to around 10,000 additional residents by the end of the year, he added.

Although not all companies cover all sources, the city hopes the development of new fiber infrastructure and fast internet offerings at all levels will provide the competitive internet market that residents seek, said Ryan Trujillo, chief of staff. assistant for the City of Colorado Springs, who helped establish and now leads the Office of Innovation.

“Ultimately, this increases the number of broadband providers, which should increase accessibility and affordability of broadband throughout our city,” Trujillo says. “In Colorado Springs, there really is a combination of several models that I think will ultimately help the consumer and the resident.”

That companies build “Fiber to the home” is an important distinction among the six fiber Internet options that will be available in the spring over the next few years.

Instead of connecting individual homes to fiber, Comcast uses a different type of cable, coaxial, which doesn’t offer the same download and upload speeds. Thomas, the regional vice president, said Comcast builds fiber to some businesses or residential developments, but most homes are connected to a fiber backbone via coaxial cables.

This “hybrid fiber coax network,” as Thomas calls it, doesn’t require Comcast to do any new construction directly around homes — coaxial cables are already installed in most cases, as they’re also used for distribution cable television. This reduces construction and installation costs, he said.

“The infrastructure is already in place,” says Thomas. “If we can offer [faster internet speeds] in the existing architecture, why tear up the roads and do all that to achieve the same result?

But building fibre-to-the-home provides symmetrical download and upload speeds, which is one of the main advantages of fiber in general, says Bob Thompson, CEO of Underline, which planned to install the fiber with access to parts of downtown as early as last week. . Underline is building what is called an “open access” fiber network, on which it will offer multiple ISP options that households can switch between without any setup process.

“As we’ve learned during the pandemic, the internet needs to be symmetrical,” says Thompson. “The days when the only purpose of the internet was to stream Netflix are over. People are working from home, kids are studying from home, kids are participating in Zoom study groups and work projects for their schoolwork – all this requires download speed.

StratusIQ is partnering with Underline to be a proposed ISP on Underline’s inbound fiber optic networks in downtown and the town of Fountain, said Kley, president of the company.

He sees the Underline partnership as a way to expand StratusIQ’s coverage area to other parts of the city as he continues to expand his existing infrastructure in the northeast.

Thompson is confident that Underline will be able to provide its “open-access” ISP marketplace to any address in the Springs, whether it’s in a low-income neighborhood where subscribers need discounted rates. Underline’s business plan and network design take this into account, he says.

“We started with one goal, among other things, that the Internet should be fast, affordable, and fair,” says Thompson. “The fair share means we’re partnering with the city to build the whole city – or at a minimum, we won’t avoid poor neighborhoods.”

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