Posted 10/11/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
Tioga is going to get a little faster next year, at least as far as broadband is concerned.
Northwest Communications Cooperative Wednesday laid out its plan to build fiber to the home (FTTH) to a well-attended event that drew in some 50 or 60 residents to hear the presentation.
This improvement will grant Tiogans the same broadband infrastructure currently enjoyed by about 20 percent of homes in America.
And it will be the first major telecommunications upgrade in 50 to 60 years, when the old operator phone systems were replaced with copper wires.
When the fiber buildout is complete, a lot of the telephone wires can be taken out.
“That should clean things up in the air a bit,” Todd Watterud, engineering manager, told the attendees at the presentation.
When completed, the differences in Internet speed will be considerable. Currently, most residents get about 10 megabyte download, with 1 megabytes upload.
With the old copper wiring replaced with super-fast fiber, that speed will go up theoretically as high as the customer wants to pay for.
For those who don’t need faster service, the new fiber will not impact their current NCC bill, and many people should see at least some increases in speed for no extra cost.
The project could have some far-reaching, positive impacts for the town.
James Miller was among those who attended the NCC presentation. Aside from a few years he spent away, he’s been in Tioga for 35 years.
He majored in 3D animation, and his work can suck up a lot of bandwidth. Add to that all the streaming video and video gaming he does in a house with five other Internet users, and he regularly runs short on bandwidth.
He said it would impact his plans for the future if he could have the kinds of bandwidth he’s enjoyed when he was in other areas.
People who don’t watch a lot of Internet TV or do a lot of video gaming probably won’t see much of a difference when the switch over comes.
Leon Raad said he’s never had any problems with his current Internet speeds.
“I can’t say I have any complaints,” he said.
The buildout will begin this year at the NCC office in Tioga at Third Street South and Main. From there it will travel west to the alley between Benson and Torning, where it will turn north and continue under the railroad tracks.
This is a fiber cable two inches in diameter. Inside the black plastic outer insulation are 576 lines of fiber optic cable.
“We could theoretically connect 576 homes with this one cable,” Watterud said.
At Signal Road, the fiber construction will head towards the water tower.
It’s unlikely the contractor will get much further than that until next spring.
The original plan was to get it all done this summer, but a loan through the USDA’s Rural Utility Service program ran up against delayed approval.
While the loan itself was approved, the federal government must also approve the contract award. So, NCC put the job out to bid and awarded it to Arvig out of Minnesota. The NCC board approved the bid, and then sent off the paper work to the federal government.
Then the co-op waited through the summer for an answer.
“It just recently got greenlighted,” said Dean Rustad, operations manager.
While this main fiber cable will be bored underground this year, it’s uncertain how many customers will enjoy its benefits before next spring.
During the winter, at some homes along the route completed this fall, the company may install some of the hardware that accompanies the new technology.
This includes an outdoor box and an indoor component. The indoor component will replace the modems people currently use with an all-in-one unit that includes Ethernet connections, wifi, cable, and telephone box.
Some members may be transferred over this year.
One of the participants asked if this will get rid of the television cable box, and unfortunately, it will not.
It will also not get rid of the problems the co-op has been having with intermittent cable signals, which has to do with how the cable signal is received.
Some of it comes from satellites and some direct from studios.
NCC is still trying to find a solution.
“I can apologize, and we’re working on it. Unfortunately fiber won’t fix it,” said Rustad.
Tioga is not the first community to receive FTTH. Epping was the first, as well as rural Crosby in 2010.
Round Prairie was connected to fiber in 2011 and 2012. Rural Ray and Wildrose followed in 2014, Columbus and rural areas around Columbus got fiber in 2014, and NCC built out fiber to Noonan and Grenora this year.
Rustad said the order of the build out relates to a variety of practical and financial factors. It also had a lot to do with fairness to members.
A lot of the rural areas were dealing with 1 megabyte downloads or less.
In some cases, such as in Crosby and Ray, the co-op upgraded the copper DSL to VDSL, which grants roughly about twice the speed as DSL.
However, those upgrades cost money. So it made more sense in many cases to just go ahead with the fiber buildout.
“We’re trying to treat all our members the same,” Rustad said.
Rustad said an upgrade in Tioga to VDSL was going to cost about half as much as the $3.2 million fiber upgrade, so they decided to just hold off, especially since they expected to get loan approval much sooner in the year.
As customers are ready to be connected to the new fiber, they will receive notices in the mail from NCC.
Fiber will come to Ray in 2018, with other communities, such as Crosby, to follow around the same time, depending on funding.