While other fiber deployments around the country are seeing pandemic-related delays, that's not been the case for Owensboro, Kentucky's municipal fiber utility, which has gone from 1,000 subscribers in February of this year to more than 1,800 today. The network has ambitious plans to increase that number to 3,700 by next summer.
A collaboration between cooperatives is bringing fiber connectivity to hundreds of unserved homes in southern Kentucky. Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WRECC) and North Central Telephone Cooperative (NCTC) will be working together to connect 800 homes in the endeavor, which will also be used to gauge the feasibility of further buildout in the region down the road.
The project is situated in the southern part of Warren County, along U.S. Route 231 and just south of the city of Bowling Green near the unincorporated community of Alvaton. It began with a franchise agreement in 2017 between WRECC and NCTC, with KentuckyWired paying NCTC to build north into Warren County where the telephone cooperative’s fiber subsidiary could partner with WRECC to expand inside a pilot service area. The electric cooperative will supply backbone fiber and lateral lines via its existing assets, with NCTC funding the remainder of the build that will bring residents online.
A Welcome Venture
More than 60,000 people live in the county outside of the city limits of Bowling Green, and many of them — especially in the southern portion— have limited or no connectivity options. WRECC and NCTC make a natural pairing, with the latter (founded in 1938) serving power to more than 67,000 members today (about half of them in Warren County). NCTC (founded 1953) serves 20,500 members mostly in Tennessee.
WRECC President and CEO Dewayne McDonald said of the project:
Our board of directors has challenged us to find a way to bring high-speed Internet [access] to our members. After extensive research, we decided that partnering with others was the best route.
Construction started end of 2019, with the build split into 7 areas and originally anticipated to be complete in the summer 2020. By June the partnership had completed construction through areas 1-4, with drops in areas 1-3 nearly done by the end of the month. By August, crews were finished with areas 5 and 6 as well,...Read more
All across the country, municipal networks, cooperatives, and cities have been putting in extra effort to make sure that Americans have the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access they need to conduct their lives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
AT&T has decided to take another route. A USA Today report last week revealed that the company has stopped making connections to users subscribing to its ADSL Internet as of October 1st. Anyone calling the company to set up new service is being told that no new accounts are being accepted.
The decision comes right as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance has released a report detailing that only 28% of AT&T’s territory can get fiber from the company. AT&T has deliberately focused investment in more urban areas of higher income. From the report:
The analysis of AT&T’s network reveals that the company is prioritizing network upgrades to wealthier areas, and leaving lower income communities with outdated technologies. Across the country, the median income for households with fiber available is 34 percent higher than in areas with DSL only — $60,969 compared to $45,500.
The Deep South Hit Hardest
As of today, it looks like the most conservative number of those affected by the decision will be about 80,000 households that have no other option. Our analysis using the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 data shows that the Deep South will be hit the hardest (see table at the bottom of the page).
Collectively it means more than 207,000 Americans who, if disconnected, will have no option for Internet aside from their mobile devices or satellite service. The number of Americans affected by the decision but which have additional wireline options is higher: roughly 2.2 million American households nationwide subscribe to the service (see map, below).
At this point the decision seems only to affect those subscribing to the company’s ADSL service. Those subscribing to ADSL2 and asymmetric VDSL won’...Read more
Owensboro Municipal Utilities (OMU) has taken a deliberate, steady approach in expanding the network since the 2016 pilot program. Residents and businesses in the community are signing up at a faster rate than anticipated, says OMU telecommunications superintendent Chris Poynter. The utility had not expected to reach the 1,000 mark until late spring.
The Messenger-Inquirer reports that at a recent Owensboro Utilities Commission meeting, Poynter told commissioners:
Beginning next month, OMU will work to provide internet service to its third segment, or a large portion of Owensboro, The new segment, which will extend the service to about 3,800 potential customers, will run east from South Griffith Avenue, with Griffith Avenue and East 20th Street as its northern borders and College Drive and West Byers Avenue as its southern borders, to Breckenridge Street.
Construction on the third segment is scheduled to start in January and end around May 2020.
Poynter said there is a backlog of about 110 customers, with a waitlist that extends into late February and early March. About 14 percent of potential customers are using the service. Poynter said customers on the waiting list are completed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“Business is growing and doing well and having a backlog and the problems that Chris mentioned are problems of growth,” said General Manager Kevin Frizzell at the meeting.
OMUFiberNet offers three tiers of service with all speeds symmetrical:
- 50 Mbps for $49.99 per month
- 100 Mbps for $69.99 per month
- 1 Gbps for $99.99 per month
Subscribers also pay a one-time installation fee of $49.99.
OMU plans to blanket the city with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and expects to finish the project by 2023.
The fifth anniversary of the announcement of the KentuckyWired project is approaching later this year. As voters start to assess their candidates’ job performance, the unfinished and over budget middle mile public-private partnership (P3) has become an albatross that incumbents aren’t able to easily cast off. When we last discussed the project in 2017, we shared our observations and misgivings. Not much has changed, except some of our concerns have played out and the project has become troubled by new problems.
In Case You’re Just Arriving to the Party…
The statewide, massive middle mile project officially began when Kentucky announced in late 2014 that they would build a fiber optic network in order to bring better connectivity to rural areas. They planned to find a private sector partner and sought bids. In the fall of 2015, Australian firm Macquarie won the contract for what soon became an even larger endeavor — a fiber optic network that would enter every county in the state at a minimum of one location. The network would consist of approximately 3,200 miles of fiber and connect about 1,000 public facilities. At the time the project was developed, the state estimated that deployment would cost approximately $300 million.
With early bipartisan support, the state allocated $30 million from their budget, which they expected to combine with $23.5 million in federal grants. When the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority issued $232 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds and $58 million in taxable revenue bonds to complete financing, Bond Buyer named the issue the “Deal of the Year” for 2015. Macquarie’s timeline estimated an optimistic one-year completion for the entire statewide project.
Macquarie Capital, as the entity managing the project, included in the agreement with the state a requirement that they and their partners, including Black & Veatch from Kansas and Ledcor of Canada, would build, operate, and maintain the network for 30 years. During the course of those three decades, the state would pay them approximately $1.2 billion and when the term was over, Kentucky would own the infrastructure free and clear. During the contract period, Kentucky would make “...Read more
In Hopkinsville, Kentucky, “the idea that [Internet] connectivity is a luxury” will soon be a relic of the past. The city’s municipal electric provider, Hopkinsville Electric System (HES), is currently working through its Internet service, EnergyNet, to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to all premises.
EnergyNet has offered fiber Internet service for over 10 years to local businesses, but in January 2018, HES made the special announcement that it would soon be providing the same service to all local residences, with the goal of making Hopkinsville the next “gig city.” The General Manager of HES, Jeff Herd, explained that by offering fiber Internet service, HES “is looking ahead and building infrastructure not only for today’s needs, but any future needs [Hopkinsville] might have as it relates to connectivity.”
While the current plan is to offer citywide FTTH, HES is building out the network one neighborhood at a time. Hopkinsville residents can register their interest for service on the EnergyNet website and neighborhoods with the most reported interest will be served first.
All options are symmetrical, and subscribers can choose from three tiers of service:
- $59.95 per month for 200 Mbps
- $79.95 per month for 500 Mbps
- $99.95 per month for for 1,000 Mbps (1 Gigabit)
The Kentucky Infrastructure Authority (KIA) has approved $4.3 million in loans to Hopkinsville Electric System in order to make the expansion happen. Past KIA loans have focused on loans to communities for water and wastewater infrastructure projects, but their Fund C program also provides loans for publicly owned broadband infrastructure.
Changing with...Read more
Close to connecting subscriber number 500, Owensboro, Kentucky’s OMUFibernet is also ready to continue expansion to more neighborhoods as they develop their publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) gigabit network.
In 2016, Owensboro Municipal Utilities (OMU) decided to experiment by engaging in a pilot project that offered gigabit connectivity to approximately 500 premises. The project also allowed businesses within the geographic areas to lease fiber if they chose a more flexible option.
The success of the pilot project encouraged OMU to expand OMUFiberNet to the rest of the city. Now that almost 30 percent of potential subscribers have signed up, OMU is ready to move into yet another neighborhood. OMU Telecommunications Superintendent Chris Poynter recently told the Messenger-Inquirer:
"We have been very deliberate in how we grow our service area. It has to be both cost-effective and fair. What we really did not want to do is cherry-pick desirable demographics. What we said from the very beginning was that we are a municipal utility and we’re all about serving the community, so we’re going to let technology and cost determine how we deploy it."
OMUFiberNet offers three tiers of service with all speeds symmetrical. A one-time installation fee of $49.99 applies:
50 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.99 per month
100 Mbps for $69.99 per month
1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $99.99 per month
"Can We Go to Grandma's?"
Subscriber Connie Singer and her grandkids have been using OMUFiberNet for about a year; Singer moved into a new home that was already connected to the network. Her grandchildren are gamers, she says, and OMUFiberNet provides “the fastest Internet service she’s ever seen.” The symmetrical gigabit service allows the household to run two gaming computers at once.
She also likes the fact that all her utilities, including Internet access, are on one utility bill. “It’s amazing,” she says.
OMU installed fiber optic infrastructure in the...Read more
Owensboro’s municipal fiber network could begin serving more customers this spring as it moves from pilot to citywide project.
Fiber Pilot Success Leads to Expansion
The residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project began in 2016 serving only a single neighborhood. Now, after a successful first phase, Owensboro Municipal Utility (OMU) is installing new fiber along the electrical grid and urging potential customers to sign up for the expanded service.
The city itself has been utilizing fiber infrastructure to support electrical grid functionality since the late 1990s. OMUfibernet was originally conceived in 1999 to better serve the business communities needs. After recognizing the need for similar improvements for households, their residential FTTH pilot began in 2016 by connecting 500 residents with gigabit symmetrical Internet service. The pilot also allowed business’ to lease fiber, giving them greater flexibility in data transport speeds.
The first municipal network in the country was established in Kentucky in the 1980s. Those humble beginnings have led to a state with an impressive residential FTTH network coverage. Often, deploying a well-crafted pilot project like OMU’s leads to successful citywide coverage. The Electric Plant Board in Franklin, Kentucky, unveiled a similar project in May, but we've seen these FTTH pilots happen in many communities. Rural cooperatives increasingly use pilot projects to perfect their designs and systems when they decide to offer Internet access to members.
Pilot programs also allow municipalities and cooperatives to determine the level of interest before committing to large infrastructure investments. With a chance to monitor the service, entities can carefully plan their next steps in a fiscally responsible manner based on public response....Read more
From the rolling Appalachian Mountains to bustling city streets, Kentucky has it all, including gigabit (1,000 Mbps) service from Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks. That’s right, Kentucky - the state that is often used as shorthand in America politics to talk about coal country and poverty - actually has some of the fastest, most reliable Internet service in the entire country. We put together this map using the latest data sets available from the FCC to highlight how much of rural Kentucky has the gold standard in high-speed Internet service.
Cooperatives Cover Kentucky
This is just a brief snapshot using the June 2016 Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) Form 477 data set. This map shows all the FTTH infrastructure available in Kentucky according to the data submitted by ISPs. This data is reported on the census block level and may overstate coverage. Even so, the data reveals how cooperatives provide high-speed Internet service to much of rural Kentucky.
|Cooperative||Estimated Fiber Footprint*|
|Ballard Rural Telephone Cooperative||148 square miles|
|Duo County Telephone Cooperative||134 square miles|
|Foothills Rural Telephone Cooperative||841 square miles|
|Highland Telephone Cooperative||431 square miles|
|Logan Telephone Cooperative||104 square miles|
|Mountain Rural Telephone Cooperative||1048 square miles|
|North Central Telephone Cooperative||257 square miles|
|Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative||542 square miles|
|South Central Telephone Cooperative||762 square miles|
|WK&T Telecom (West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative)||1019 square miles|
With the best intentions, Kentucky announced in late 2014 that it would build out a statewide open access fiber optic network to at least one location in each county to encourage high-quality connectivity in both urban and rural communities. Hopes were high as rural residents and businesses that depended on DSL and dial-up envisioned connectivity to finally bring them into the 21st century. After almost three years and multiple issues that have negatively impacted the project, legislators and everyday folks are starting to wonder what's in store for the KentuckyWired project.
Local Communities Are Best Suited To Deploy Community Networks
There is no one-size-fits-all method of deploying across a state filled with communities and landscapes as diverse as Kentucky. From the urban centers like Louisville and Lexington to the rocky, mountainous terrain in the southeastern Appalachian communities, demographics and geography vary widely. But most lack modern Internet access and local ISPs have found it hard to get affordable backhaul to connect to the rest of the Internet.
There are several municipal networks in Kentucky, some of which have operated for decades. In addition to Glasgow, Paducah, Bowling Green, Frankfort, and others, Owensboro is currently expanding a pilot project that proved popular. As our own Christopher Mitchell discussed at the Appalachia Connectivity Summit, several cooperatives have made major fiber-optic investments in the state.
When it comes to connecting residents and local businesses, we strongly believe local entities are the best choice. Local officials have a better sense of rights-of-way, the challenges of pole attachments, and the many other moving pieces that go into network investment. Projects with local support see fewer barriers - people are more willing to grant easements, for instance.
As a state, building an open access fiber network into each county makes sense. States also need to connect their offices, from public safety to managing natural resources and social services. Rather than overpay a massive monopoly like AT&T...Read more