Broadband Communities

AUG-SEP 2014

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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AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 | | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | 43 200,000, but the communities that Lake Connections will serve there are small, remote and previously underserved. Tey were included in Lake Connections because they lay along the most plausible route for constructing a fber ring that would ensure reliable, redundant communications service. Tough St. Louis County participated in preparing the grant application, it is not an owner or operator of the network. Lake County, because it had no municipal utility, had to create a network operating entity from the ground up. It brought in two experienced telecom executives – Jef Roiland, now the general manager, and consultant Gene South – who hired customer service and technical staf. "We're relying on outside contractors for engineering and so forth, but as we grow, we'll become as self-sufcient as any other carrier," Roiland says. He adds that he hasn't had difculty hiring staf in such a remote place. In addition to locals who were qualifed, there were others who had grown up in the region, were forced to move away for lack of job opportunities and were thrilled to be able to move back. Phase one of Lake Connections – the portion now completed – covers the lakeshore towns of Two Harbors (the county seat) and nearby Silver Bay. Between them, the two towns account for about half the Lake County population. Roiland explains that these towns were built out frst not only because they contain so much of the population but also because the headend is in Two Harbors. Phase two – the rural area between Two Harbors and Silver Bay – has been built but is still being tested and certifed. Te rest of the buildout, Roiland says, will follow the route of the fber ring north through Lake County and back south again through St. Louis County. Te economics of the project depend on the fact that most people live in small towns along the main highway routes; large areas of the two counties are essentially uninhabited. Construction of the entire project should be fnished by fall 2015. STRATEGIC DECISIONS Roiland and South made several strategic decisions early on. One was to use GPON for the bulk of the access network, supplementing it with active Ethernet connections to businesses for which GPON was insufcient. A second decision was to put about three-quarters of the fber underground. Te original assumption was that the network would be about 60 percent aerial, but, as Roiland explains, "Not all pole owners appreciated having another entity on their poles, and certain municipalities and co-ops don't have to abide by the pole order." In the end, placing fber underground was less expensive in many areas than hanging it from poles. A third strategic decision was to build a video headend. Te stimulus funding application was written to include triple-play services, but Lake County originally assumed it would partner with another entity and share its headend. When the cost of transporting video from a distant headend proved prohibitive, Lake Connections had to build its own headend to fulfll the promise of triple- play services. Fortunately, Roiland says, "Te cost of building a headend has come down drastically." Internet speeds of up to 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds are ofered, though if anyone wants higher speeds, Lake Connections is happy to accommodate. Roiland says, "We didn't want to start of at the minimum – we wanted to exceed the state and federal goals." So far, there are takers for the 100/100, 50/50 and 30/10 services. Tere is also residential demand for business connections, including active Ethernet, to accommodate telecommuting or home businesses. For the last two years, Lake Connections has been receiving requests to bring fber to cell towers to accommodate LTE services, and it is now able to begin flling those orders. Residents will soon have improved mobile connectivity in addition to great connectivity at their homes. 'THEY JUST WANT IT' In the phase one territory, homeowners were given the chance to sign up for services while the fber was being laid on their streets. More than three- quarters signed up then and there. Now, the numbers are rising even higher as new residents move into town. Roiland says, "Tere were a lot of Even this remote lighthouse on the shore of Lake Superior now has access to broadband. Photo by Georgia Walker, Lake Connections

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