Broadband Communities

MAR-APR 2017

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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MARCH/APRIL 2017 | | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | 49 connect 54 county government facilities, schools and libraries with fiber and then build fiber to all the homes and businesses that requested connections. As a dark fiber company, it would manage the network but would not provide internet service. Instead, it proposed a retail partner, inkBig Networks, which would lease its fiber, install equipment at customer premises and deliver gigabit service. (e backbone network will be open access, so additional retail service providers will be able to lease last-mile connections to premises that inkBig hasn't connected.) inkBig is a fairly new company founded by telecom veterans, whose mission is to deliver gigabit internet in underserved areas. It was working on another project with FTS Fiber when FTS brought the Kent County RFP to its attention. Like FTS, it quickly saw that the RFP offered a great opportunity because it allowed for creative solutions. Mark Wagner, inkBig's CEO, says that Kent County "went fishing and landed a whale." e project was feasible for several reasons, Wagner says. First, construction costs are relatively low on the Eastern Shore, which is flat and sandy. Second, the county was willing to pay to connect its own facilities, which would bring fiber to within 2.5 miles of just about any home or business. "It would be difficult to build the entire middle mile," Wagner says, "but this makes it an attractive investment vehicle." WATER TO THE DESERT Boone calls FTS Fiber's proposal an "unbelievable solution." e county had hoped to connect half its government offices with fiber, but FTS proposed to connect them all and build out to other premises as well. FTS Fiber will own the fiber, but the county's contribution of $4.5 million will yield an ample return. e connections for county government facilities will be free for 10 years, long enough pay off the investment. In addition, the county will receive a portion of the fiber lease revenue that FTS Fiber receives from inkBig and any other retail service provider. When Boone presented the proposal to the county comissioners, they immediately scheduled a public workshop to discuss it. "It was filled to capacity," Boone says. "People were out in the hallway. It was like bringing water to people in the desert." In the end, the commissioners voted enthusiastically to accept FTS Fiber's proposal, which was backed by letters of support from the school system and the county's largest employers. FTS Fiber broke ground in June 2016, and about half the backbone network is already constructed and lit. inkBig opened a showroom in November 2016 and started attending community meetings to inform potential customers about the new service. It has already connected a number of anchor institutions and business customers, and the first residential customer was connected in early March 2017. "Our goal is to provide service to 100 percent of those who want it," says Judith Morgan, inkBig's sales director. "It's not if but when we're going to build." e construction schedule for the last mile is based on the number and percentage of customers who sign Crew members from Bel Air Underground Services prepare fiber optic cable for installation along Washington Avenue in Chestertown, Maryland.

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