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Broadband stimulus status report: Following up with four winners

Despite a fiber shortage, some projects are all or partially completed. A few are even serving end users

I took some time this week to check in with some broadband stimulus winners to see how their projects were coming along.

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With the exception of some problems obtaining fiber that has caused some delays, all four of the stimulus winners I checked in on are progressing well. A couple of them already have customers using broadband service that was made available as a result of the stimulus program—and jobs clearly have been created as a result of the program.

The fiber shortage
Three of the people I spoke with about the stimulus program this week mentioned the fiber shortage.

I heard from our fiber vendor that the tsunami took Sumitomo off line,” said Joshua Broder, president of Tilson Fiber Technology, the company that is managing a large middle mile fiber project in Maine for stimulus winner Maine Fiber Company. Broder said the shortage hasn’t impacted Maine Fiber’s project, in part because the organization was a Round 1 stimulus winner and already had a lot of its fiber on hand or in the pipeline before the shortage arose.

Not everyone has been so fortunate. Tom Lorenz, operations manager for Minnesota-based stimulus winner Federated Telephone Cooperative said Federated’s fiber-to-the-home project was supposed to start at the end of May but that date has been pushed out to the first week in July because of delays in obtaining fiber.

Aside from the fiber shortage, though, projects seem to be moving along well. NextGen Telecom Services Group, the construction company working with Tilson Fiber Technology on the Maine Fiber project, has already completed portions of the network and is installing about 80 miles of fiber a month, NextGen Telecom President and CEO Russell Stephens told me.

Meanwhile, stimulus winner CTS Telecom broke ground earlier this month on its fiber-to-the-home project in a rural Michigan community and is already 15 days ahead of schedule. The company’s construction company had an extra boring crew available, which gave the company a head start. Like Federated, though, CTS is also waiting for fiber to come in. Its due date is mid-July. In the meantime workers are doing whatever can be accomplished without the fiber—such as installing conduit.

One stimulus winner I talked to this week—Ntelos-- has already completed one of the two projects for which it won funding. The project, which upgraded 2G cellular service to 3G in Hagerstown, Md., was completed in May. Ntelos also has completed a portion of its other stimulus project, which will bring FTTH to numerous rural Virginia communities.

Some end users on line
Ntelos already has customers for its Hagerstown 3G network. In fact, existing 2G customers automatically received the upgraded service. In addition, the company has announced the launch of FTTH service in one community.

Another stimulus winner that is already supporting broadband service to end user customers is Maine Fiber—although service does not come directly from the company. The Maine Fiber network is planned as a dark fiber network and the company’s business model calls for leasing capacity on its network to other carriers, who will install their own transport equipment.

Maine Fiber, which was created specifically to build and operate the network, already has five service providers contracted to use the network, some of whom are already providing services using a portion of the network that has already been completed, Broder said.

One of Maine Fiber’s service provider customers already is delivering service to several healthcare facilities that are directly connected to the Maine Fiber Network, said Broder. Another service provider customer has begun to offer DSL connectivity over equipment it deployed in one rural market that previously had no broadband service. That service provider is using the Maine Fiber Network for backhaul connectivity to the Internet.

Job creation
A key goal of the stimulus program was to create jobs—and the broadband program certainly is doing that. The Maine Fiber network, for example, is expected to create 275 jobs during the construction phase and appears to be well on the way to achieving that goal. NextGen Telecom currently has 30 crews working on the project—and as Broder and Stephens noted, those crews are boosting local economies by staying in motels, purchasing meals and fueling their vehicles. Some of the NextGen jobs will go away after the project is completed but as Stephens noted, “We’ll be around to restore and maintain the network so some jobs will stay.”

Broder added that the long-term impact of the stimulus projects should be to create more than 275 jobs—some with Maine Fiber and other broadband-related jobs within the local communities.

He also noted that Maine has a large number of wealthy people who live outside the area but have vacation homes there. Broder is hearing that when broadband is available in those vacation homes, people spend a lot more time there, which also helps stimulate the local economy.

  

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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