2014 has proven to be a year of increasing interest in high speed fiber networks. At GWI, we’ve built and started providing service on a small town-owned broadband network in Rockport, and begun construction on a similar fiber-to-the-premise broadband network in South Portland. We’ve also connected hundreds of businesses to ultra-fast Internet using the Three Ring Binder and other fiber networks.
Every day more Americans “cut the cord,” ditching cable or satellite to watch TV by other methods. Some are motivated to cut the ballooning costs of pay TV. Others want to take control over how they watch video and avoid paying for channels they never watch or bundles of services they don’t need. In fact, according to this Wall Street Journal article, 19% of American homes are “cable free,” relying on broadcast, high-speed Internet and streaming TV. With a broadband connection and streaming media device, you can watch TV online for a lower cost than cable or satellite.
For as long as cable television has been delivering a variety of viewing options into our homes, cable customers have expressed their frustration with having to pay for channels they are not watching. The idea of à la carte cable options has long been a dream for cable customers and a nightmare for cable companies that have held a tight grip on this content for decades.
The first kernel of our gigabit fiber to the home network in South Portland was created when South Portland’s IT Director Chris Dumais wrote an RFP for a network he needed to connect city buildings and asked that bidders connect homes and businesses along the way.
There is much excitement about the recent announcements by Rockport and South Portland that the two cities will be deploying 1 gigabit per second municipal broadband networks to homes. Not surprisingly, there is also anger and frustration from certain quarters – most especially the incumbent ISP’s who have little to gain and much to lose from the market entry of a competing network.
If you follow next-generation broadband communications at all, you’re familiar with places like Kansas City, Chattanooga and San Antonio. These were some of the first cities in our country get gigabit speeds into homes either with the help of Google Fiber or through direct municipal investment. These cities are part of a group gathering on Monday to discuss next-generation broadband availability that includes tech industry hubs like Boston, Massachusetts, Palo Alto, California and Santa Monica, California.
Our first phase of building municipal fiber to the home in South Portland started, not as the economic development issue it eventually became, but as a basic IT requirement. Chris Dumais, the City’s IT Director was faced with increasing costs for the dark fiber network that connects key city buildings, and he figured one up-front payment to lease a new network for many years would save money over the long term. He put out an RFP, and he accomplished his goal.
This week Fletcher and I attended the Community Fiber Networks conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. Community leaders throughout New England came together there to talk about the impact of better broadband to community development, share experiences in deploying networks, and discuss important policy issues around broadband deployments.
One of this week’s memorable moments came on Wednesday morning, as I watched Bloomberg TV’s two spots on Maine broadband with considerably mixed emotions. Bloomberg reporter Michael McKee doesn’t pull any punches. As you can see from this spot, he contrasts the 150 megabits per second available bandwidth in New York City to our statewide average of 9 megabits per second here in Maine and explains how our challenges of population density and geography make it a money losing scenario for ISP’s to build out fiber networks on their own.
Two weeks ago, I took time out from a vacation camping in Western Maine to travel to Rockport for the announcement of the new gigabit fiber to the home network we helped deploy there. It was only much later, today in fact, that it occurred to me that I started my journey to launch Maine’s first gigabit municipal fiber to the home network in Bryant Pond – the home of the nation’s last hand-cranked magneto telephone exchange.