Bright Fiber, Small Towns

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Most of the buzz about fiber-to-the-home or fiber-to-the-premises (FTTH and FTTP), quite naturally, comes from Verizon, AT&T and other big providers. They have the marketing budgets and the public attention -- and when they do something, they do it for entire regions of the country.

The reality is, though, that much of the finest work in fiber is done by small carriers. These organizations generally have faster approval processes and closer relationships with end users, enabling them to discern what is needed and delivering, if necessary, in innovative ways.


A case in point is Cedar Falls Utilities. The wcfcourier reports that CFU plans this fall to start a $17 million fiber project to provide services to the Iowa city that would make the big fiber providers of the world blush. According to the story:

The upgrade will offer maximum Internet speeds hundreds of times faster and give CFU bandwidth for up to 100 more HD television channels on its cable system.

The project will see every subscriber get access to speeds of 75 Megabits per second (Mbps). The story adds that residential customers won't be switched to the system 2012, but will begin to see positive impact earlier due to the exit of existing commercial customers.

Cedar Falls is not an isolated example. Another project, for instance, is being undertaken by Rural Telephone/Nex-Tech, a provider in central and western Kansas. The carrier announced that it has chosen Occam Networks for a project covering 21 communities spread over 4,600 (no doubt flat) square miles. Rural/Nex-Tech won Broadband Initiative Program (BIP) grants totaling $101 million. The project is not all fiber: FierceTelecom says that it will reach 23,000 homes with a combination of FTTH and WiMax. Fiber will reach 335 anchor schools, libraries and hospitals, the story says.

In Canada, carrier Bell Aliant said earlier this month that it is expanding FibreOP-its FTTH network that serves New Brunswick-to Nova Scotia. The expansion will occur by the fall, and will be based on a substantial contribution from the provincial government. The first area of focus for Bell Aliant will be 30,000 homes and businesses in the community of Sydney.

A third example-this one back on the U.S. side of the border-won't take root for a while. The Gaylord Hub reports that Sibley (Minnesota) County Commissioners have approved payment of as much as $40,000 to fund a FTTH feasibility study for the city of Gaylord. The study will look at project cost, the amount users would be charged, the level of use necessary to make it worthwhile, how the system would be operated and what services could be provided. Matching funds on the feasibility study are being provided by the Blandin Foundation. The city is considering doing the job itself, the story says, because cable operators and telcos are looking for a quick return on investment (ROI).

There no doubt are other examples. While there always is a good deal of small and independent telco fiber activity, times are particularly good now: The broadband stimulus has freed up money, while the slowdown of municipal Wi-Fi projects has created demand. Small telcos, with their long tradition of technical innovation, are moving into the future for rural subscribers.