Broadband Communities

JAN-FEB 2019

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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TECHNOLOGY 5 2 | B R O A D B A N D C O M M U N I T I E S | w w w. b r o a d b a n d c o m m u n i t i e s . c o m | J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 9 fiber point-to-point leases with no split, a backbone ring lease and a colocation space lease. It also provides a series of lit fiber services to Huntsville's city buildings, the city's school district, and traffic signal infrastructure. In a high density/high volume distribution network fiber lease scenario, Huntsville Utilities charges $3,500 a month for a backbone ring fiber lease. A low density/low volume distribution network lease offers two options: backbone ring fiber minimum at $3,500 per fiber and a backbone ring fiber maximum for $16,000 per fiber. To work with partners such as Google Fiber, the utility builds fiber to the curb, installs a multiport service terminal (MST) that can serve several customers, and lets service providers build and own the final drops to the customer premises. is approach allows Huntsville to fund the network through electric rates without borrowing. It controls the buildout schedule to the various neighborhoods, but it does not have to get involved in customer connections. Google Fiber – or another provider partner – markets services to customers, secures permission for drops and installations, plugs its cables into the MSTs and gets customers connected. "It's presented a huge opportunity for Huntsville Utilities and the city of Huntsville as far as connecting our facilities – we are just now starting to get a handle on how to take advantage of it," Cantrell says. "We have built over 50 percent of the city of Huntsville now, so there's enough to start making a difference." Foresite Group is also consulting with Huntsville Utilities and other stakeholders on the implementation of smart-city applications and other innovative use cases. In addition to Google Fiber, AT&T, Comcast and Uniti Fiber (via the former Southern Light) are making large fiber builds in the city. AT&T launched FTTH services in Huntsville in 2016, and Comcast Business is building out a fiber network to deliver up to 10 Gbps speeds to local businesses. Meanwhile, Uniti Fiber is building fiber to serve businesses in Cummings Research Park and provide 5G services throughout the city. Although Huntsville Utilities has not named any new customers, Cantrell says it is seeing growing interest from others to lease fiber on the network. "We have not made any other agreements near the same magnitude as the Google agreement, but there has been other interest from different types of tenants," Cantrell says. "We do have some other dark fiber leases in place." UTILITIES SPREAD BROADBAND, FIBER WINGS Huntsville Utilities' move into the wholesale fiber space represents a growing trend: Electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities are taking on broadband service to drum up new broadband competition and upgrade internal infrastructure. Utility companies can use the fiber to perform command-and-control and smart-grid applications. As the home to a vibrant community of engineers and scientists, Huntsville began looking for ways to entice broadband providers such as Google Fiber by issuing a request for information in 2015. Using ratepayer funds to build the $57 million fiber network, Huntsville Utilities hopes to achieve two main goals: monitoring its power system and enabling 1 Gbps FTTH services for all Huntsville residents via Google Fiber. From a utility point of view, Huntsville Utilities hopes to improve the communication capabilities of the water, electric, and natural gas systems to improve operational efficiency and provide better service. Utilities getting into fiber broadband have several advantages, including an established customer base, existing rights-of-way, pole access and connections to homes. Although Huntsville Utilities did have to add additional resources to maintain the fiber, the utility has existing infrastructure to support the fiber network: a 24/7 dispatch center open 365 days a year, with shift work and call-out policies in place and used. A key issue with any new fiber player is getting access to existing utility poles. Because Huntsville Utilities is a utility, Cantrell says, the make-ready process is much easier than what a newcomer such as Google Fiber faces when it enters a new city or town to install fiber. "e process can take a lot of effort, but it's a process that electric utilities deal with every day," Cantrell says. "It is new to be on the applications end, but we are one big step in the process that we have some control over. We also can coordinate the make-ready with other pole line maintenance or necessary replacements, making the process more efficient." Lewis-Ramirez agrees. "When we look at the list of potential cities where it makes sense to deploy fiber and broadband networks, the ones that have their own electric utilities are the places where it is a little easier to do so," Lewis-Ramirez says. "ey have ... workforces that have experience working on pole lines, and in many cases, they own their own utility lines." Having a well-established set of pole arrangements was a key element in what made an agreement with Huntsville Utilities an attractive destination for Google Fiber, whose make-ready and pole access issues with incumbent providers and utilities are well documented. Utilities have taken part in the second installment of the FCC's 2018 Connect America Fund (CAF II) reverse auction. In all, 35 electric cooperatives will collectively receive $225 million over 10 years to help defray the costs of deploying broadband in unserved areas. Lewis-Ramirez expects more rural electrical cooperatives will launch similar initiatives. "e fact that this year electric cooperatives were invited to participate in the CAF II program is pretty telling," Lewis-Ramirez says. "I think you're going to see more and more electric co-ops, especially in rural and smaller communities, build networks." v Sean Buckley is the associate editor of Broad B and Communities . He can be reached at

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