Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is it?

A universal gigabit highway made up of a Fiber to the Home (FTTH) network connecting everyone within a region of 25 towns and 76,000 homes in northwest Connecticut.

It is much like our existing telephone and cable tv networks except it uses glass fibers sending light signals instead of copper lines that send electrical signals.  Copper lines are inherently limited; fiber optic lines are not.  It is the network of the future. As with existing networks, a fiber network comprises trunk wiring mounted on telephone poles or installed in underground conduits, drop wiring from poles into a home or business, home electronics for signal conversion and WiFi distribution within the premises, and a back-haul network consisting of switches and interconnecting fiber optic cables that link to the Internet, the public switched telephone network, and other potential resources such a broadcast television feeds.

Why do we need it?

Speed, universal access, latency.  Unlike telephone and cable television networks now, it will serve everyone, it will be fast enough for all future applications, and it will have the low round trip delays required for many new applications.  It is the network of the future.

Our current networks from television and telephone companies were designed and built decades ago; they are on their dying legs. Each has been adapted to create digital networks that share lines with legacy telephone and television channels.  Each has been augmented by installing fiber optic nodes in the “last mile” to shrink the length of copper lines and the number of users sharing them.  But they are the past, helpless really before the needs of the future.   But none of the incumbents can afford to upgrade their networks to fiber optics nor can they afford to connect everyone.  The only way we are getting the network of the future that connects everyone, like roads and electricity, is municipal participation in their construction and management.

The network future is about more than just speed.  Speed of course is critical.  Twenty years ago the only way most people reached the Internet was through dial-up modems running at 56 kbps or less; today the average Internet access rate is 26 mbps, reflecting the circumstance that more than half of current Internet connections go over CATV networks.  Things in the pipeline such as 4K and 8K television, the Internet of Things, and Virtual Reality will continue to push speed requirement up, soon pushing CATV networks into the dust bin.  But the network future also requires universal access and very low latencies.

Universal access means passing every home and business with a new network to which anyone can subscribe at affordable rates.  This is the way we think about roads and electricity.  In the present regulatory landscape in telecommunications our incumbent carriers are not obliged to connect everyone, and competitive pressures render the prospect all but impossible from a commercial point of view.  Communities will have to take charge of their own network destiny.

Latency, or round trip delay, looms large on the horizon of some new applications.  Remote Virtual Reality requires latency below 10 ms; most networks today do well to be under 50 ms, and many mobile connections are around 150 ms.  Latency comes down by increasing speed and decreasing the distance to a data center.  Neither are coming from legacy carriers; a new network is required.

Why do our communities need it?

Economic development, restoral of our young population, education, safety, health care, government information, quality of life.  Broadband has become as necessary as roads, water, electricity.  Every day we are denied broadband on a universal basis at speeds required for future applications is a day longer in our drift downward.

A new fiber-optic network will become the nerve system of our region. It will be the basis for new economic development for businesses requiring reliable communications, from farms to health care facilities to web and software developers to IT departments to small manufacturers using the Internet to sell their products. Economic development will encourage young people to move here and stay here, with all the benefits a resurgence of youth engenders. It will promote safety, education, health care, government information, real estate values and sales, and other community features affecting our quality of life. Fiber to the Home will allow individuals to migrate to the entertainment and household future, a future less expensive than what they have now and more capable as the world becomes increasingly digital and demands network capacity.  It is the future.  At some point everyone will have it.  We can build out competitive community assets if we have it first.

What is our business model?

Municipalities own the trunk wiring on poles (think roads) and a private partner provides the wiring from the poles into homes and all network electronics (think driveways and garages).

Out thin housing footprint and small town size prevent any sensible business case for a private partner if the partner builds the entire  network.  But if we install and own the wiring on the poles, the largest cost in our region for a new network, and the private partner provides the rest—drop wiring from the pole to the home or business, home electronics and wiring, and network switches—the business case for the private partner becomes very attractive—after some initial infrastructure he only commits capital when he has a customer.  This model greatly eases the risk burden for the private partner and creates the conditions for good working relationships between the public and private parties.  The model is unique in America as far as we know despite it making a great deal of sense.

How much will it cost - total?

Depends on way too many factors to give a simple number, but estimated total cost comes to $212 million for the region if everyone subscribes, or $2830 per home more or less worst case with aerial wiring.

Construction costs depend upon a number of variables and cannot be determined exactly without conducting engineering studies.  Trunk wiring along poles or under grounded range from $30,000 to $200,000 a mile, with $40,000 a mile for aerial wiring a decent estimate.  Drop wiring from pole to the home and all home electronics run around $1000 per home, with homes longer than normal distance from a poles sometimes adding significant costs.  Distribution hubs and switches can be guessed at by adding 10% to the costs of wiring.  Back-haul connections to an Internet point of presence will likely be leased from an existing network at something like $1000 per gigabit per month.  If all 75,000 homes subscribe to the new network, creating enough traffic to justify a 100 gigabit back-haul rate, the costs per home for back-haul figures to be less than $1.50 per month.

Recurring costs depend upon the number of actual subscribers.  Fiber optic networks are more reliable than copper-based networks and therefore require lower maintenance costs. However, in our business model recurring costs will be fully absorbed by the private partner and be requited through subscriber fees.

How much will it cost our communities?

A precise figure cannot be given, but a reasonable estimate for trunk wiring that is largely aerial is $113 million, or about $1500 per home, which would be $5.38 per month per home under favorable financing.

Under our business model our communities will only pay for the trunk wiring, and of that just the wire, not terminating electronics. The wire will last forty years or more without possible replacement, providing communities with an asset that will attract very favorable borrowing terms. Trunk wiring depends largely on road miles. We have 2256 miles of maintained roads miles in our region. If we assume predominantly aerial wiring on telephone poles with mandatory under grounding where other wiring is already underground, we can estimate construction costs at $50,000 per mile, or $113 million for our region. While this seems like a large number, a network that does not need replacement or upgrading for forty years can attract 40-year financing terms. At today’s interest rates over forty years the cost per home in our region for trunk wiring would be $5.50 per month.

If the communities must pay, do they get a return?

Some, but not enough to pay for the infrastructure or make money in the long run.

Our thin housing footprint makes the cost per home of trunk wiring the dominant cost of the network (in urban areas it is the drop wiring).  Any arrangement with a private partner will involve some lease payments back to the communities, but we will suggest that such payments go to support those on the economic margins.  Even though fiber optic wiring lasts decades, anything on a pole will be subject to storm damage (although the power lines usually catch falling limbs before they reach the communications space on a pole), so some maintenance costs will have to be considered.

Will communities be directly involved, or will some utility-like agency be established to work with the private party?

Almost certainly the latter.

Most of our communities have no skill sets related to networks or their management, and getting all communities united under one plan through a confederation has almost no chance of working well.  We imagine the entity to function much like our 911 call and dispatch service that supports 20 towns in Litchfield County through a non-profit corporation, paid for by the state and the member communities, and deploying through the call center a fiber optic network for reaching remote information and dispatch locations.  The model may need some legislative tweaking, but we are not carving new stones.

Can we get federal or state subsidies as rural communities?

Very unlikely, but we may be able to borrow money from the federal government at very favorable terms.

Connecticut presently faces significant budgetary constraints. The federal government has several programs from several departments devoted to broadband improvements in rural areas, but they usually go to DSL upgrades by legacy telephone companies in census tracts where CATV does not offer broadband. Every census tract in our region has CATV with broadband service. We are ironically too advanced compared to most rural communities to be a recipient of federal monies.

However, installing a fiber optic network may have collateral benefits in this respect.  There are numberless resources now for subsidies involving health care, the digital divide, other educational advances for those from the economic margins, agriculture, developing government efficiencies, aging at home, and combatting poverty, any of which will be promoted in our region by a fiber-optic nerve center linking everything together.  The existence of the network will make us a more attractive opportunity for these related concerns.

Will everyone be connected?

Anyone who wishes to subscribe will be connected with the same service pricing as everyone else, the meaning of universal service.

However, any home a very long distance from a telephone pole may require a contribution from the homeowner. Unlike CATV networks, every home will be passed by the network, making the costs for a very long “drop” at least the smallest it can be.

What services will be offered?

Internet access at 1 gigabit, full telephone service, access to a local data center for specialized applications, and secure private lines for access to remote IT functions within large corporations.

We do not imagine a full television suite (the costs of which are high for construction and complicated for procuring content).

How will the services be priced?

Competitively, for some services quite a bit lower.

We cannot set prices before a deal with a private partner, who will decide prices based upon the business model and local competition. However, we can say with certainty that neither we nor any partner would enter into an agreement unless prices were “competitive,” meaning that the new network will be less expensive than existing CATV for the same service and services unobtainable from CATV, such as 1 gigabit Internet access, which would be priced where CATV currently has 100 mbps access. We know from experiences in other communities with fiber-optic networks that competitive prices are realizable.

Why will residential users want this over cable television with cable modems for Internet?

Much higher data rates for a given Internet access fee, lower telephone costs, packages for cord cutting, but perhaps most important, a local call center with a human being answering the phone instead of a robot.

For the individual, a fiber-optic network sails past cable television (CATV). It can be cheaper, even after accounting for individual contributions to the network. (How much will depend greatly upon the services taken by any given user.) It creates the fully digital home—no more cables, televisions can be anywhere in the home, any number of devices can be operating at the same time. Our call center will be local, not outside the country; a service call will be answered immediately by someone living in Litchfield County. Data rates will be upgradable to fit user needs forever. Upstream rates will be the same as downstream, enabling full video sharing and a host of applications CATV cannot support. Houses will be worth more, people can work at home with all the capabilities they have at the office, and future applications will be supported. CATV is the past; the future is fiber.

What is ``mobile enhancement``?

Using the fiber optic lines installed under this program to connect small antennas on telephone poles to fill in many gaps in current mobile coverage.

The mobile network connects mobile phones to a nearby antenna through the air. Hills, trees, and other impediments block the path, creating dead spots. Small antennas can be installed on telephone poles or light poles to augment the large antenna towers where signals are weak or non-existent. These antennas are connected back into the mobile network through fiber-optic lines. It is our intention to use the fiber network constructed for our communities for this purpose, installing antennas at strategic locations to improve reception. The communities will bear the costs, which are not trivial. As some communities may not need any antennas and some will need quite a few, how to allocate the costs remains to be determined.

Isn't 5G the future, all we will need once we get it?

No.  5G will both requite and drive fiber to the home networks.

First, 5G will not materialize in our region for years; it is in very small trials now and the standards for some of its features have not even be set yet.  Second, 5G requires small antennas on utility poles or new poles spaced every half-mile or so; the frequencies are too high for tower-based antennas.  Installing these poles everywhere will be expensive, time consuming, and opposed by many communities.  Three, many people will beat the antenna problem by putting a small antenna in their attic or elsewhere, which will need a fiber optic connection back into the network.  Four, 5G is not necessary for today’s applications; it depends crucially on new applications around the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, telemedicine, and 8K video screens among others.  As these develop and mature, they will require fiber optic networks in the home to augment or be the primary communications resource serving the applications.  5G will drive fiber optics to the home, not replace it.

Why a region instead town by town?

We need the economies of scale to attract a private partner and provide an adequate base for local service and maintenance.

The principal reason for collecting ourselves into a region is to attract a private partner. A private enterprise will not take on a town with fewer than 20,000 homes because of fixed capital and recurring costs for maintenance. The largest town in our region has 16,000 homes; some have less than 800. If we work together, we amass 75,000 homes, larger than any one city in the state. Together, we become a very attractive opportunity. A secondary but equally important reason is that economic development, the principle driver from a community point of view, will be hard to realize for smaller communities working alone. Even our larger communities are missing some features needed to attract Millennial professionals when considered alone. However, as a region, we can develop compelling incentives for new businesses and new people to work and live here.

Why this particular region?

We have natural arrangements with the Northwest Hills Council of Governments (NHCOG) for 21 towns; the other four asked to be involved.

Our target region comprises the 21 towns within the Northwest Hills Council of Governments (NHCOG) and four towns south of that region who asked to be included in the enterprise. They are contiguous and form a geographic unit that has sufficient common features with sufficient diversity to be considered a single entity. We can do the network with fewer towns, and we could add towns as the network decisions come closer. However, as getting any 25 towns on the same page is difficult, we want to stay with the current group and the relationships formed, leaving addition or subtraction to a more appropriate time.

Is this the same as the CEN network?

No. The Connecticut Education Network (CEN) and the Public Safety Data Network (PSDN), which taken together have been called the Nutmeg Network, are state-wide fiber-optic networks connecting schools and libraries (CEN) as well as police and fire stations (PSDN).  We will likely use CEN for back-haul to the Internet, but we are basically proposing a “last mile network.”

By its very nature, the PSDN will not expand its services to clients outside the public safety arena. CEN is looking for business, but it only connects to homes or businesses under special and expensive circumstances. Neither network was ever intended for the “last mile.” Furthermore, neither supplies telephone or television services. However, our network may lease space from the CEN network to connect our network to the Internet, a so-called “back-haul” connection. As the state of Connecticut has suspended funding for CEN, it is seeking new customers.

What have other communities done?

Many diverse options have been implemented and explored around the country for municipal-based fiber networks.  Because we have widespread access to CATV networks and no electric utilities, we are proposing a business model that is unique in America for networks, but completely consistent with the way we treat roads.

Many different scenarios have been and are being played out now in the country. Verizon, CenturyLink, AT&T, and Frontier offer FTTH in select cities, but they are moving very slowly. Google wired up some parts of Kansas City, but they are now trying much leaner approaches. Around 100 smaller communities have installed fiber-optic networks through a municipal electric utility, the most well known being Chattanooga, Tennessee. Several communities in western Massachusetts are going it alone, but only for data services, in towns with no CATV, and with the state supplying half the costs. Here in Connecticut, the city of East Hartford has reached an agreement with a private firm named SiFi to install and maintain a FTTH network that SiFi will finance but with certain financial guarantees from East Hartford. An intriguing option is at work in Westminster, Md, in which Westminster installs and owns the fiber but then leases it to a private partner installs all electronics, provides services, and markets all services. Unfortunately, there is no example in the country of a number of municipalities forming a collective, building out a network, using it to enhance its mobile network fabric, and offering all conceivable services over it. We will be the first. The advantage of being first in the contest for new businesses devoted to information technologies cannot be overstated.

Will Frontier or any CATV company contest the effort?

Yes.  They have already interfered through the Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA), getting them to rule that Connecticut communities cannot use their legal space on the pole for commercial broadband.  We are appealing this through the court, but it will take a long time to settle.  We are meanwhile mounting a legislative campaign to secure the legal power to proceed regardless of how connected PURA seems to be to incumbent carriers.  In the end we will prevail.  Stay tuned.
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