Initiatives

An Investment in the Future of our Region

We are proposing a fiber optic network for the northwest corner of Connecticut connecting everyone at one gigabit per second speeds, a speed required for the future of digital communications.  We are proposing that our regional municipalities own the wire on the poles, the trunk lines, and a private partner provide drop wiring from the pole to the home or business, all network electronics, and operations and maintenance after the network is built.  The model is analogous to how we treat roads and sewer systems.  A wrinkle on that model is a regional legal entity that represents the towns relative to our private partners, a kind of thin utility, that relieves towns of any responsibility for the network itself.   But we are not proposing this network for its own sake, anymore than we need roads for their own sake.  We are proposing this network for what it will accomplish for our region, what it will do for us.  We must start there.

THE NETWORK INITIATIVE

Current CATV Offerings

If we consider broadband by the FCC definition of 25 mbps downstream and 3 mbps upstream, then broadband in our region now only comes from cable tv (community antenna television, or CATV) companies.  We have three CATV providers in our region: Comcast, Cablevision, now owned by a French company Altice and operating under the trade name Optimum, and Charter, which recently swallowed Time Warner cable to become almost as large as Comcast, and operating under the trade name Spectrum.  These are all huge corporations. All operate as monopolies in the towns they serve.  They have each refused to connect many homes in the region, they have limited network capacity to serve future applications, and when they decide to upgrade their networks they will almost certainly upgrade our region last.  

Current Frontier Position 

For its part, Frontier continues to support DSL in our region, with downstream speeds from 1 or 2 mbps up to 16 mbps using two lines into homes reasonably close to a central office (DSL speeds go down in proportion to the line length).  This is not broadband anymore. To get more out of their copper network Frontier must install fiber optic lines to nodes between a central office and the home to drastically shrink the length of the “last mile” to well below a mile.  Should they decide to do that more broadly in Connecticut, or install some fiber to the home connections in Connecticut, they will certainly not do it here first.

Why We Must Do It Ourselves

Let it be said before moving on that we, Northwest Connect, would not be recommending any kind of public participation in a new fiber optic network if we believed any of the current incumbents, or Verizon for that matter (which is pulling some fiber in Fairfield County), would wire our communities on a universal basis with fiber optic lines to the home and business in the next two to four years.  We are here only because they have refused universal service and consistent upgrades in our region in the past, they have no visible intentions of such a strategy in any of their other current markets, they have refused to talk to us about any plans they might have, and as a consequence we can be all but certain that we are not getting a fiber network from any of them for the foreseeable future.  This is unacceptable.

The Basic Idea

The sobering fact is that our region has a housing footprint too thin to attract any private partner to install a network here and take chances at a high take rate to justify the considerable expense.  Some community contribution will be required.  On the other hand, almost any private partner would jump at the chance to wire up customers that have already subscribed if the capital costs are right. In our region the greatest capital costs are incurred by the trunk lines attached to poles that pass every home. (In urban areas the greatest capital costs come from connections from the pole to the business because poles support so many more premises.)   So we are proposing a three way partnership:

1.Our communities will participate in a single regional agency that will contract for the installation of fiber optic cables on utility poles or underground when necessary that pass every home and business and include for every lot on a plat map a connector terminating a fiber line that may be used to easily hook up a link to a premises.This is called trunk wiring.  Think roads.  This agency will also administer municipal funding for the network and its subsequent maintenance, which will be very small (it is only wire and it lasts many decades).

2.A private partner will install drop wire from the connector at the pole into any subscribing premises and install wiring and electronics in the premises for signal conversion and distribution. The beauty of this arrangement from the perspective of the private partner is that the capital expense is not incurred until there is a real customer, radically reducing capital risk.  Think driveways and garages.

3.The same private partner (likely, but not necessarily so) will install and maintain all network electronics, comprising principally the various cards that terminate the network end of each fiber optic line and switches that route information around the network, plus the huts or pedestals and uninterruptible power supplies necessary to their operation.Such equipment and facilities constitute a relatively small portion of total network expense.

4.This local network must connect to the Internet somehow, to regional data centers somehow, and to private organizations outside our region such as large IT departments of banks or insurance companies (as examples) through secure lines.This is called back-haul.  We are proposing to lease back-haul capacity from the current CEN network for this purpose.  The lease fees will be remitted by the private partner through customer revenues. The actual capacity leased will depend upon the number of customer and their actual usage of the network, the sums for which are quite small per customer after a relatively low number have subscribed.

Status

We have run this idea by enough prospective vendors to know that it works. We have made preliminary choices for a vendor for voice services over the network and we have made a preliminary decision to use CEN for back-haul.  We have more than one vendor talking to us about constructing the trunk wiring, and we have more than one vendor talking to us about the customer premises connections, network electronics, and operations and maintenance. From these discussions we are able to fashion a reasonably reliable estimate of costs.  These costs are consistent with network component costs that can be derived from costs known to have been incurred by municipal networks elsewhere.  There is no question in our minds about the viability of the model or our abilities to orchestrate a real network from a physical and business point of view.

But we are not able to move beyond collecting data and interest at the present time.  We commissioned a detailed study of Connecticut law relative to municipal networks and discovered that Connecticut law neither prohibits nor authorizes a community or any private agency contracted by the community to construct a network intended for commercial broadband services.  This contrasts starkly with Massachusetts, which has overtly authorized such services furnished over municipally-owned networks, under which many small municipalities in the western part of the state have either built such networks or plan to build such networks.  In the absence of positive authority, any community trying such a network using private utility poles will be resisted by Frontier and CATV companies.  Frontier owns the poles (with Eversource).  Even an underground network could be protested by competing private organizations.  Such resistance can only be settled in a court after long and expensive battles.  So we are organizing a legislative campaign to cause amendments to existing statutes that will make clear what these statutes imply but do not make explicit, that municipalities have the right to enter the commercial broadband market as the only means by which competition in that market can be realized, the only means by which everyone will have access to broadband services, and the only means by which rural municipalities (at least) can enter the modern world of communications.  That campaign will produce suitable legislation by next June 2019.

We are not unmoored. The Community Initiative outlined above will proceed even if the networking requirements are satisfied by CATV for the interval.  We will lock down the business plan, write rather complex specifications for the network, and select a full complement of vendors.  We will fashion the legal documents necessary to construct a regional entity entitled to represent the communities relative to the network.  With some visibility on prospective legislation we may be able to launch network engineering which must precede construction under any circumstances.  We can find and arrange for land or existing buildings necessary to house switches and network-end electronics.  And not least of our work will be persuading our communities to pay for it.  But we will have to delay the actual beginning of network construction until the summer of 2019 at the earliest.