Dexter Goei, Altice USA’s outgoing CEO, continues to strongly defend the company’s decision to upgrade large portions of its network to fiber, stating that the product and business performance of the move make dollars and sense. Altice USA’s current plan is to upgrade about 6.5 million passings to fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) by 2025 and back that up with multi-gigabit speeds, which Altice USA has begun to soft-launch in parts of its fiber upgrade areas.
At the Goldman Sachs Communacopia + Technology conference in San Francisco, Goei said while the company has made strides in deploying its fiber network — it expects to finish 2022 with up to 2.3 million homes passed with the technology — it is still seeing customer declines in its former Cablevision and Suddenlink footprints.
In Altice’s former Cablevision systems in metropolitan New York City, gross additions are lower, there is less move activity and churn levels are low, but the company also is competing against a telco — Verizon Communications — that has been extremely aggressive on price. In its Suddenlink markets mainly in the Midwest, gross addition activity is high but churn is high, especially in markets where it is being overbuilt.
“We’re still losing subs in both markets but for different reasons,” Goei said. “We feel good about the fourth quarter turning around and looking better next year.”
Altice USA lost about 3,000 subscribers in 2021 — the only major cable operator to do so — and shed more than 50,000 broadband customers in the first half of this year.
Altice began accelerating its fiber rollout last year, with a goal of passing 6.5 million homes by 2025. At the Goldman conference, Goei said the company expects to end 2022 with 2.2 million to 2.3 million homes passed with fiber (an increase of about 1 million homes), and should add another 1.6 million to 1.8 million households by the end of 2023.
While other cable operators have seen an increase in competition from fixed wireless access providers from telcos, Goei said most of Altice USA’s telco competition is replacing slower DSL lines with fiber, hence the acceleration of its own fiber buildout plans. But he shared his peers’ disdain for fixed wireless access (FWA), agreeing with some pundit predictions that the technology will reach a performance and penetration plateau in the next two or three years.
Goei announced his intention to step down as CEO earlier this month, and will become executive chairman of Altice USA on October 3. In his place the company named Comcast executive Dennis Mathew as CEO, also effective October 3. Mathew has 17 years of experience with Comcast, most recently as senior VP of its Freedom Region (Southeast Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Northern Delaware). He earlier served as senior VP for its Western New England Region (Connecticut, Vermont, Western Massachusetts and areas of New York and New Hampshire) and has extensive experience in running cable businesses.
Goei said at the Goldman conference that his main motivation for stepping down was a desire to return to Europe, where he spent his childhood and most of his professional career, with his family. He added that he notified the Altice USA board of his decision about a year ago, starting the search process for a replacement about six months ago. He believes he’s leaving Altice USA in capable hands.
“I interviewed many, many people during the process; Dennis fits the bill across the board,” Goei said, adding that Mathew has a proven track record in operations, running one of Comcast’s most high-profile regions (the Freedom Region) and will fit in well with the Altice team. “He’s just a great guy, a team player, will focus on the prize and is someone who would do very well with the executive team at Altice USA.”
The average revenues per user (ARPU) on Altice USA’s fiber-based products are 7% to 8% higher than ARPU on cable-based services, he said. Additionally, churn rates on fiber services are also coming in about 6% to 8% lower than on HFC, and the NPS (net promoter score) for the fiber product is also coming in higher.
“Every single metric that you can imagine – that you would anticipate – are better” on the fiber product, Goei said. He acknowledged, however, that the installation process for fiber customers getting a triple-play bundle that includes pay-TV and voice could be better.
As for Altice USA’s fiber network build update, the company finished almost 270,000 new homes in the second quarter of 2022, a record the company expects to beat in Q3 and, weather permitting, in Q4.
For 2022, Altice USA expects to complete an additional 1 million fiber passings, with 1.2 million as its “stretch target.” That will put Altice USA in a position to end the year with 2.2 million to 2.3 million homes passed with fiber.
In 2023, Goei said Altice USA expects to ratchet up the build to 1.6 million to 1.8 million homes passed as the operator starts to push fiber upgrades into the Suddenlink footprint.
Altice USA is also doing edge-out builds to areas adjacent to existing facilities and pursuing grants for fiber builds in underserved and unserved areas. Altice USA has won grants or subsidies covering 40,000 to 45,000 homes, a number that Goei predicts could rise to about 200,000 in the next 12 to 24 months.
Altice USA, which has been fielding M&A inquiries about the Suddenlink properties, believes its fiber focus will set the stage for a return to broadband subscriber growth as early as Q4 2022, and certainly by sometime in 2023.
Goei said 80% of gross broadband subscriber adds in fiber areas take a fiber-based service. Though Altice USA is trying to convert HFC customers to fiber proactively, exceptions include customers who want to keep their existing setup or who are in homes and locations where a landlord won’t allow a new fiber drop.
Altice USA has been building a fiber broadband network in its Optimum territory in the New York tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) with 1.2 million fiber passings available for sales as of December 31, 2021. For Suddenlink, construction is expected to begin this year in areas of Texas. Additional states in the Suddenlink footprint that will benefit from this fiber expansion plan include areas of Arizona, California, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.
“Altice USA is proud to announce plans to invest further in our fiber deployment strategy by accelerating the build of a 100% fiber broadband network capable of delivering multi-gig speeds across our Optimum and Suddenlink footprint,” said Dexter Goei, Altice USA Chief Executive Officer. “Fiber is the future and given the progress we have made at Optimum with our fiber expansion, we’re excited to build on that success and break ground later this year at Suddenlink to bring our advanced network to more customers and communities.”
Goei touched briefly on Altice USA’s Optimum Mobile product, which is supported by an MVNO deal with T-Mobile. He agreed that there are benefits to bundling mobile with home broadband but lamented that mobile EBIDTA is challenged by “thin margins” being driven by a mobile marketplace that’s seeing falling ARPU and rising levels of promotions.
With that backdrop, Altice USA expects to market fiber more aggressively than mobile this year and into 2023. “For the balance of this year, I don’t think you should expect real big waves in the mobile product,” Goei said.
Goei also offered some additional commentary on the recent announcement that he will be stepping down as CEO to become executive chairman of the board. Comcast exec Dennis Mathew has been tapped to take the CEO slot effective October 3.
Goei reiterated that he is shifting gears for personal reasons, as he and his family want to return to Europe. He said he informed the board of his decision about a year ago. Altice USA started its CEO search roughly six months ago.
In his new role, Goei said he will focus on “large strategic stuff” and external elements such as government affairs and conversations with the financial community, so that Mathew can focus squarely on operations.
Dark Fiber network operator Neos Networks has announced a new partnership with Giganet, aiming to support the ISP’s burgeoning FTTP rollout with backhaul and data centre services.
Giganet currently offers customers access to its gigabit services through a variety of network providers, including Openreach and CityFibre, reaching millions of homes across the UK. In fact, earlier this year, Giganet announced that they had extended their partnership with CityFibre, thereby making their services available to customers across the entirety of CityFibre’s UK network.
However, last year Giganet announced they would also be rolling out their own FTTP network directly, investing £250 million to cover underserved areas of Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, and West Sussex.
In total, the company hopes to reach 300,000 premises with full fibre over the next four years, with its core network and first four exchange rings set to be live by the end of 2022.
As this new network grows, it will need additional backhaul capacity and support – something that Neos, with its 550 unbundled exchange network, is well positioned to provide.
“Neos Networks rose to the challenge of providing us with resilient and high capacity backhaul circuits across a wide range of exchanges as well as our core data centres,” explained Matthew Skipsey, Chief Technology Officer at Giganet. “Using Neos Networks, we have been able to secure connectivity to our points of presence faster than expected, initially enabling each of our first four regional rings with resilient 100Gb/s backhaul. This means our south coast roll-out is progressing at pace.”
This network expansion project will see Neos support Giganet to deliver a more than tenfold capacity increase.
“Both Neos Networks and Giganet have adopted a collaborative approach to this relationship. This has resulted not only in solutions being delivered faster than ever, as the Giganet network grows, it also gives us the ability to transition connectivity between points of presence without any disruption,” explained Sarah Mills, Chief Revenue Officer at Neos Networks. “There is no doubt that by working in partnership with alternative network providers, like Giganet, UK residents will benefit from a better, faster, and more resilient connectivity.”
Matthew Skipsey added: “The ready availability of high-quality resilient connections to our points of presence, undoubtedly enabled us to quickly roll-out hyperfast, full broadband to a marketplace hungry for improved connectivity.”
After a long pause on network expansions and reducing some of its original commitments in 2016 (including Santa Clara, CA), Google Fiber has once again building out it fiber network. Google Fiber CEO Dinni Jain [1.] wrote in a recent blog post:
“We’ve been steadily building out our network in all of our cities and surrounding regions, from North Carolina to Utah. We’re connecting customers in West Des Moines – making Iowa our first new state in five years – and will soon start construction in neighboring Des Moines. And of course, we recently announced that we’ll build a network in Mesa, Arizona.
And that’s just the stuff we’ve been talking about. For the past several years, we’ve been even busier behind the scenes, focusing on our vision of providing the best possible gigabit internet service to our customers through relentless refinements to our service delivery and products.”
Note 1. Dinni Jain is a former cable industry executive with MSO’s such as Time Warner Cable and Insight Communications,
Google Fiber says it’s talking to city leaders in the following states, with the objective of bringing Google Fiber’s fiber-to-the-home service to their communities:
- Arizona, starting in Mesa as announced in July
Jain also opened the door to communities interested in building their own fiber networks, pointing to the municipal-focused model Google Fiber has established with cities such as Huntsville, Alabama, and West Des Moines. “We’ll continue to look for ways to support similar efforts,” wrote Jain, who took the helm of Google’s access business unit in 2018.
Google Fiber’s current high-end service provides 2 Gbit/s down by 1 Gbit/s up for $100 per month. Google Fiber has all but phased out its own managed IPTV service, but instead promotes several virtual multichannel video programming distribution (vMVPD) services, including DirecTV Stream, FuboTV, Sling TV and Google’s own YouTube TV.
Google Fiber’s current and planned network and service deployments using FTTP or Webpass, its fixed-wireless platform is depicted in the table below:
|Google Fiber Market||FTTP or Webpass|
|Charlotte, North Carolina||FTTP|
|Des Moines, Iowa||FTTP|
|Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri||FTTP|
|Orange County, California||FTTP|
|Salt Lake City, Utah||FTTP|
|San Antonio, Texas||FTTP|
|San Diego, California||Webpass|
|San Francisco, California||Webpass|
|The Triangle, North Carolina||FTTP|
|*Google Fiber FTTP deployments coming to cities yet to be announced.
(Source: Google Fiber)
Frontier Communications reported better than expected 2nd quarter 2022 results on Friday. Operating income was $166 million and net income was $101 million for the 2nd quarter 2022. Adjusted EBITDA was $535 million, representing sequential growth of 5.1% from the first quarter of 2022, driven by the sequential increase in Consumer revenue, accelerating cost reductions, and a one-time $8 million sales tax refund. Adjusted EBITDA declined from $628 million in the second quarter of 2021 primarily due to subsidy-related revenue declines, partially offset by lower operating expenses and cost savings initiatives.
The fiber facilities based telco set another fiber network buildout record in the second quarter of 2022. Frontier also raised its fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) buildout target for the full year to a range of 1.1 million to 1.2 million locations, up 10% to 20% from an earlier target of about 1 million locations.. Capital expenditures were $641 million, an increase from $385 million in the second quarter of 2021, as fiber expansion initiatives accelerated. Frontier’s fiber network passed 4.4 million locations (out of a total fiber footprint of 15 million locations covering parts of 25 states), a marker on the way to a grander plan to build FTTP to at least 10 million locations by 2025.
“Frontier is Building Gigabit America. We are deploying fiber and connecting people to the digital society at a record pace,” said Nick Jeffery, President and Chief Executive Officer of Frontier. “We have the second-largest fiber build in the country and this expansion is unlocking new opportunities to meet increased consumer demand for blazing-fast fiber broadband while driving efficiencies across our business.”
Mr. Jeffery continued, “In the second quarter, we saw the impact of our operational success translate into financial growth, and we delivered sequential EBITDA growth ahead of schedule. Our team’s operational discipline over the last year has improved Frontier’s financial trajectory and positioned us as the preferred digital partner for customers across our footprint.”
Second-quarter 2022 Highlights:
- Built fiber to a record 281,000 locations
- Added 54,000 fiber broadband customer net additions, resulting in fiber broadband customer growth of 13.4% compared with the second quarter of 2021
- Revenue of $1.46 billion, net income of $101 million, and Adjusted EBITDA of $535 million
- Capital expenditures of $641 million, including $325 million of non-subsidy-related build capital expenditures
- Net cash from operations of $229 million, driven by healthy operating performance and increased focus on working capital management
- Raised $1.20 billion of debt in May, contributing to liquidity of approximately $3.70 billion
Frontier was able to accelerate its Q2 fiber buildout and expand its full 2022 target in the face of a “challenging supply chain and macroeconomic environment,” Jeffery said on the company’s Q2 earnings call on Friday August 5th. Jeffery noted that Frontier has diversified its fiber build into six additional states and plans to be building in at least 12 states by the end of the year. “This geographic diversity expands our opportunity to build fiber and provides redundancy for maintaining our build pace,” he said. Frontier is pairing that with additional contracts for both labor and equipment and realizing cost efficiencies using a blend of “cluster density” and new construction techniques – moves that are helping the company manage through both inflation and labor-related challenges, Jeffery added.
Frontier’s current FTTP buildout plan covering 10 million locations focuses on a portion of its footprint referred to as Wave 1 and Wave 2. The telco is also piecing together a plan for Wave 3 – a portion of its footprint with 5 million locations in rural areas deemed to be financially less attractive to build fiber.
However, Frontier execs said a fresh analysis indicates that between 1 million to 2 million of those Wave 3 locations can be converted to FTTP economically without government subsidies.
John Stratton, Frontier’s executive chairman, said the other 3 million to 4 million remaining locations in Wave 3 could also meet the company’s return-on-investment thresholds depending on how the distribution of some $42 billion in federal infrastructure funding pans out in the coming years. However, the overall funding plan for a Wave 3 build is still being ironed out. Frontier is also exploring other options for Wave 3, including partnerships and joint ventures.
As US cable operators and telcos struggled to gain broadband subs in Q2 2022, Frontier bucked the trend, adding 9,000 total broadband subs in the period when a loss of 41,000 legacy DSL/copper subs were included. Jeffery estimated that between 45% to 50% of all new Frontier fiber subs selected speeds of 1-Gig or more. Frontier launched a symmetrical 2-Gig fiber service in February.
Copper-to-fiber migrations are part of Frontier’s subscriber total, but the “vast majority” of those additions are coming from new customers, CFO Scott Beasley said.
“I think it’s clear to see from recent results that, as we’ve always said, fiber is a superior product to cable,” Jeffery said. “And while the cable and fiber market remains competitive, it’s also worth reminding ourselves that in our specific footprint, we have 84% of that where we have one or fewer competitors today. That said, in this quarter, we gained share against every competitor in every geography we operate in.”
Comments from Nick Del Deo, Senior Analyst at MoffettNathanson:
Frontier’s overall results in Q2 were solid, particularly with respect to financial metrics. On the subscriber front, Frontier continues to expand its fiber broadband base, adding 54K total fiber broadband customers (consumer and business), the same as in Q1, with a nice uptick in SMB adds (1K in Q4, 2K in Q1, and 4K in Q2). Gains came from both base markets and expansion markets. Copper losses also ticked up, but the company still added broadband customers overall, the third consecutive quarter it has done so. The company achieved this despite Q2 seasonality (primarily snowbirds in its Florida markets) and churning out nonpaying copper customers with the expiration of COVID-era requirements. Frontier is not seeing any deterioration in bad debt or customer payment trends with shifts in the macro environment.
In Q2, the cable industry posted total broadband net adds that were approximately zero, the first time this has happened since cable broadband was introduced about 25 years ago. Frontier’s telco peers reported weak results, too, with little change in fiber adds and heightened DSL losses. The management teams pegged the performance, to varying degrees, on: low gross connects stemming from low move rates; a return of seasonality that disappeared during the pandemic (e.g., college students); competition, most notably from fixed wireless (though this was not uniformly described as material); a pull-forward of some demand due to COVID over the past couple of years; and disconnects associated with government support programs rolling off. [Rightly or wrongly, market saturation has not been cited as a possible headwind.]
Frontier has banked the future of the company on broadband net adds, with a plan to upgrade a large portion of its footprint to FTTH and take share, primarily from the cable operators. The accelerating growth of Frontier’s fiber footprint offers some protection from market-wide trends, since it should mechanically gain net subscribers where it upgrades from copper to fiber. But Frontier has something else going for it, too: an ongoing transition from a company with weak management, a poorly received brand (to be generous), bad customer service, and no strategic focus to the opposite. These “softer” attributes matter.
Frontier stepped up the pace of its fiber expansion in Q2, adding 281K locations vs. 211K last quarter, and expects to reach 1.1-1.2M homes this year. While it remains early, Frontier’s expansion fiber cohort penetration rates remain encouraging; the 2020 build cohort stands at 22% at 12 months and 44% at 24 months, albeit on a small base of “golden” trials, while its larger 2021 build cohort stands at 17% at 12 months, right in the middle of its target range. While acknowledging “pockets” of expense pressure, the company remains confident in its $900-1,000 cost per location target. Management indicated that it now believes 1-2M of its 5M wave three locations, which have been set aside from an upgrade perspective, can be profitably converted to fiber without government subsidies (the 3-4M latter require support). The company did not announce specific changes to its fiber build plans with this update, but did note that some of these locations may be sprinkled in to the plans it has previously laid out. Management suggested these 1-2M locations would have a somewhat lower return profile than its wave two locations, in mid-teens rather than mid-to-high-teens. Financial results in Q2 were better than expected. Revenue was 0.8% ahead of consensus, with the effects of sustained fiber net adds and a jump in copper broadband ARPU driving the outperformance. EBITDA was 4.7% higher than consensus and was up sequentially.
Global fixed access broadband subscribers reached nearly 1.3 billion at the end of Q1 2022, up by 1.7 percent from the previous quarter, according to the latest figures from Point Topic. The market research firm said the number of connections increased in 90 percent of the 131 countries researched, including the 20 largest markets. The global growth rate remains slightly less than a year ago.
For the first time ever, Fiber to the Home (FTTH) connections were more than half of all fixed broadband connections. Indeed, the share of FTTH in the total fixed broadband subscriptions continued to increase to 58 percent at the end of March 2022. Cable broadband connections were the next most common technology with a 17 percent share, while connections over all other technologies lost market shares to fibre. Compared to the end of 2021, FTTH connections increased 13.5 percent, while copper broadband lines were down 9.8 percent.
Main trends in Q1 2022:
Fixed broadband subscriber numbers grew in 90 per cent of the 131 countries covered in this report.
The share of FTTH in the total fixed broadband subscriptions continued to increase and stood at 58 per cent. Superfast and ultrafast cable broadband connections followed with an 17 per cent share. Connections over all other technologies lost market shares to fibre.
Between Q1 2022 and Q4 2021, the number of copper lines fell by 9.8 per cent, while FTTH connections increased by 13.5 per cent.
China added 14 million, Brazil 1.1 million and France a million fibre broadband subscriptions.
In Q1 2022, the quarterly fixed broadband subscriber growth rate stood at 1.7 per cent, with the number of connections reaching 1.3 bn (Figures 1 and 2). Similarly to Q4 2021, the growth rate was slightly lower than in the respective quarter a year ago.
WOW! Internet, Cable & Phone, a leading broadband services provider, today announced the launch of its 1.2 Gig high speed data tier in all markets it serves. This highest speed tier is available for all new WOW! residential customers and available as an upgrade for existing residential customers.
The new speed tier offers 1.2 G Mbps download speeds and 50 Mbps upload speeds to support even faster Internet capabilities for residential customers – for work, entertainment, connecting with friends and family, and more – enabling simultaneous streaming, instantaneous downloads, professional-level gaming, and frictionless livestreaming.
“As part of our dedication to bringing customers the fastest, most reliable broadband speeds available, we’re now able to offer our fastest speeds yet across our markets with 1.2 Gig service,” said Henry Hryckiewicz, chief technology officer for WOW!. “Our ability to offer these speeds is just the latest demonstration of the deep capabilities available with our robust fiber network. Our customers now have even more options for staying connected and we look forward to seeing them benefit from it.”
Ongoing effects from the pandemic have reinforced WOW!’s commitment to bring even faster speeds to customers. With changing dynamics for how we work, learn and play, consumers need a reliable internet connection, with 81 percent of adults saying they’ve used bandwidth-hungry video calls since the onset of the pandemic according to Pew Research Center.
Along with its blazing fast 1.2 Gig speeds, WOW! is offering a free modem for the duration that the customer is subscribed to the plan, unlimited data usage where applicable and a $5.00 AutoPay discount.
WOW! is one of the nation’s leading broadband providers, with an efficient, high-performing network that passes 1.9 million residential, business and wholesale consumers. WOW! provides services in 14 markets, primarily in the Midwest and Southeast, including Michigan, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. With an expansive portfolio of advanced services, including high-speed Internet services, cable TV, phone, business data, voice, and cloud services, the company is dedicated to providing outstanding service at affordable prices. WOW! also serves as a leader in exceptional human resources practices, having been recognized eight times by the National Association for Business Resources as a Best & Brightest Company to Work For, winning the award for the last four consecutive years. SOURCE WideOpenWest, Inc. Please visit wowway.com or call 800-560-1824 for more information. Areas served by WOW:
Belgian network operator Proximus is teaming up with private equity partners in a bid to deliver gigabit fiber service to 95% of the country. The telco is planning to reach a final joint venture (JV) agreement with I4B by the end of 2022.
The company this week inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with I4B – The Belgian Infrastructure Fund – whose founding investors are the Federal Holding and Investment Company (SFPI-FPIM), AG Insurance and Synatom, will act as an anchor investor to the project. I4B’s mission is to finance the development of infrastructure with a positive impact on Belgium’s economic development, while taking into account societal and environmental requirements.
One of the joint ventures will focus on rollouts in the French-speaking Wallonia region of the country while the other will zero in on Dutch-speaking Flanders. Proximus will serve as a minority shareholder for each JV and the anchor tenant on the networks built in each region.
Proximus and I4B plan to spend around €4 billion (approximately $4.2 billion) between the two JVs. Petra De Sutter, Belgium’s deputy prime minister, said in a statement the partnership between Proximus and I4B will help ensure internet access in areas with “no or insufficient connectivity today.”
According to a report released by the FTTH Council Europe in May, Belgium topped the list as the fastest growing fiber market in the European Union (including the U.K.) by percentage. Its figures showed Belgium’s number of homes passed grew 109% between September 2020 and September 2021, outpacing Israel (107%) Greece (90%), Cyprus (83% and the U.K. (80%).
The city of Amarillo, TX has selected AT&T to install fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks, covering more than 22,000 customer locations. The project will cost about $24 million (with $2 million coming from the city). The network, which will be built out over three years, still requires final approval by Amarillo and a final contract between AT&T and the city.
AT&T already has access to public rights of way in Amarillo with its legacy infrastructure and will work closely with the city on permitting activities required for the fiber build-out.
[Amarillo residents and businesses also served by Altice USA’s Suddenlink Communications.]
AT&T is taking the public/private partnership route here. The telco inked a similar $39.6 million agreement (with about $10 million coming from public funds) last year with Vanderburgh County, Indiana, to build fiber to about 20,000 locations in the rural, southern tip of the state. AT&T also has a $33 million fiber project underway to connect about 20,000 locations in Oldham County, Kentucky.
As noted in an earlier IEEE Techblog post, AT&T’s FTTP buildout/upgrade plan is targeting 30 million locations by 2025. AT&T added 289,000 FTTP subs in Q1 2022, ending the period with a grand total of 6.28 million, and enough to offset a quarterly loss of 284,000 non-fiber subs (including U-verse Internet customers).
“What we’re doing here in Amarillo that’s different is that this is an urban core,” said Jeff Luong, president, broadband access and adoption initiatives for AT&T. “The city of Amarillo identified a specific area that they believe is challenging from a connectivity perspective in their urban core,” he added.
“The area that the city wanted to address is actually the city core. It’s actually an area they feel is underserved,” he said. “We are expanding access, we are providing a very affordable free solution when partnered with ACP [Affordable Connectivity Program] and then we’ll be actively engaging in adoption, digital literacy and other type of activities to ensure that people have access, they can afford it and that they understand how to use the service.”
“We’re working with the public sector to identify areas that are more challenging to build on our own from a private sector perspective and creating these type of public/private partnerships where we, AT&T, will invest our own capital. But the public sector would also contribute a share of the cost to expand fiber connectivity to these locations,” Luong said.
AT&T today delivers services in the area via other technologies, including legacy copper networks. The new fiber overlay, based on XGS-PON, will be capable of delivering symmetrical speeds of 5 Gbit/s, replicating a new mix of multi-gigabit services that AT&T has launched in its other FTTP markets.
AT&T already has access to public rights of way in Amarillo with its legacy infrastructure and will work closely with the city on permitting activities required for the fiber build.
About AT&T in Texas:
AT&T customers and FirstNet® subscribers in Texas got a big boost in wireless connectivity and fiber access last year. In 2021, AT&T completed nearly 1,000 wireless network enhancements in Texas, including adding nearly 200 new macro sites. AT&T also made fiber available in more than 300,00 new locations in Texas in 2021. These network improvements will enhance the state’s broadband coverage and help give residents, businesses and first responders faster, more reliable service.
From 2018 to 2020, we expanded coverage and improved connectivity in more communities by investing more than $7.7 billion in our wireless and wireline networks in Texas. This investment boosts reliability, coverage, speed and overall performance for residents and their businesses.
And in Amarillo, we expanded coverage and improved connectivity by investing more than $60 million in our wireless and wireline networks from 2018-2020.
Leaders from three rural utility providers discussed their expansions into deploying fiber and how their organizations are getting involved with delivering broadband on a webinar hosted last week by the Fiber Broadband Association, In Holland, Michigan, for example, the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) started building fiber 30 years ago for “enhanced connectivity for monitoring and control” to its systems, said Pete Hoffswell, superintendent of broadband services at HBPW, which operates a power plant, water treatment plant and water reclamation plant.
“Fiber is absolutely essential for very reliable, high-performance connectivity for all that equipment,” said Hoffswell. “If we lose contact with one of our substations and the power goes down, that’s a bad day in our town. And fiber helps us keep that up.”
Katie Espeseth, vice president of new products at EPB, a municipally owned electric power distributor in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that started delivering fiber in 2008 and today has roughly 11,000 miles of fiber deployed, shared Hoffswell’s sentiment and added a number to it. “We have about 11,000 miles of fiber in our footprint. We serve about 125,000 customers with our broadband services,” said EPB’s Espeseth.
“The cost of power outages in Chattanooga was nearly $100 million a year,” she said, referring to costs to the community (“the cash register or the point of sale terminals not working and that sort of thing,” she explained). Today, the fiber network has reduced power outages by 65% and outage minutes by 52%, which the utility estimates as a $50 million return to the community, she added.
“A lot of our local offices are relying on the local Internet. And so the systems that we have, from a corporate standpoint, some of our field engineers can’t even run those systems because the Internet connection in those local areas is so poor,” he said. “It’s significant to know that you do not have a limitation from a communication standpoint.”
EPB, Alabama Power and HBPW, which all began deploying fiber to support their power grids, have each expanded into delivering fiber broadband either directly or indirectly. EPB – which turned Chattanooga into “the first gigabit community in the world,” according to Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association – operates its own ISP called Fi-Speed. Today, Fi-Speed delivers residential service speeds of 300 Mbit/s, 1 Gbit/sec and 10 Gbit/sec.
In Michigan, Holland BPW delivers fiber to local businesses, municipalities and community institutions and works in partnership with six ISPs: 123.net, Everstream, Sirus, Merit Network, US Signal and The ISERV Group.
“When we started the fiber, we decided any excess capacity in our network would be made available to our community,” said HBPW’s Hoffswell. “We did that and have provided lit services and dark fiber services to our greater community for 30 years now.”
Similar to HBPW, Alabama Power started its fiber build 30 years ago but did not expand into fiber distribution until “three or four years ago,” said Stegall. Rather than looking to serve as an ISP (“that’s outside of our scope,” he said), Alabama Power is delivering middle mile fiber and currently has service provider partnerships in seven of the 14 markets where its fiber distribution networks are active.
“The other seven are in more rural areas and [it is] harder to find those partners,” Stegall said. “So, we’re very interested and excited to see what the infrastructure bill is going to do in terms of enabling business cases for some areas that did not have traditional telecom business cases.”
Service and infrastructure ‘decoupling’
Indeed, the multi-billion-dollar broadband grant programs in the Biden administration’s infrastructure law specifically reference electric utilities’ role in the future of fiber and broadband delivery.
The $1 billion middle mile program calls out “electric utilities that increasingly recognize their capability to transform the communications market.” And the $42.45 billion Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grant program names electric utilities among the “non-traditional providers” as eligible subgrantees and encourages funding open access networks.
That push toward funding open access networks, and recognizing electric utilities and cooperatives as well placed to close broadband infrastructure gaps in the rural US, is enabling new business and delivery models.
In Arkansas, for example, a group of 13 electric co-ops has recently banded together to form Diamond State Networks, a wholesale fiber network, to deliver broadband across the state.
Conexon, a consultancy that works with electric co-ops on fiber delivery, is another example; its newer ISP arm Conexon Connect operates broadband services for electric co-ops that don’t want to take on the role of service provider. (“We help people design and build networks, and we are interested – when an electric co-op is not – in operating the network,” Jonathan Chambers, partner at Conexon, told Broadband World News.)
Alabama Power’s Stegall expects the federal government’s focus on open access to push more utility providers that were previously hesitant to compete with service providers into delivering fiber infrastructure. “What I see in a sense is the decoupling of an infrastructure play and a services play. It’s the future,” he said.
A new consortium in Arkansas is leading the way forward for electric cooperatives in the rural U.S. can increase bandwidth and save costs by collaborating on fiber broadband delivery.
Diamond State Networks (DSN) is a collective of 13 electric co-ops from across the state of Arkansas which are joining forces to deliver wholesale fiber broadband. All in, the cooperative networks’ 50,000 miles of fiber will cover 64% of Arkansas and reach 1.25 million rural Arkansans. The goal for DSN is to serve 600,000 residences and businesses in Arkansas in the next few years, with over 250,000 locations already deployed. Here’s a network coverage map:
The 13 member cooperatives in DSN include: OzarksGo, Clay County Connect, Farmers Electric Cooperative, Petit Jean Fiber, Enlightened by Woodruff Electric, NEXT Powered by NAEC, Wave Rural Connect, Arkansas Fiber Network (AFN), Four States Fiber Internet, empower (delivered by Craighead Electric), MCEC Fiber, South Central Connect and Connect2First.
Doug Maglothin, DSN’s director of operations, says his company expects to add “a couple more cooperatives” to that list. (The state of Arkansas has 17 electric co-ops, served by a central entity called the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.)
The collective of co-ops that form DSN are at different phases of their service delivery journey. Some, like Farmers Electric, are in the early planning stages. OzarksGo – the subsidiary of Ozarks Electric Cooperative – is furthest along and nearing 40,000 subscribers. Indeed, Maglothin referred to Ozarks Electric CEO Mitchell Johnson as the “visionary” for DSN, who saw the need for the state’s electric co-ops to get involved with broadband delivery in 2015 and 2016.
But as electric co-ops began entering the space in 2017 and 2018, “pretty quickly, you find out how difficult and expensive it can be to buy connectivity to the global Internet,” said Maglothin. It was “from that necessity” that the plan for DSN was born.
While the consolidated electric cooperative model is unique for the broadband space, other states and communities are deploying broadband as collectives or partners. That includes Utopia Fiber’s municipal, open access fiber delivery network in Utah as well as California’s planned open-access statewide middle-mile network. And this week, a group of rural telcos and an electric cooperative in Indiana announced plans to launch HoosierNet, a “multi-year, multi-million-dollar” statewide fiber network.
Maglothin said DSN is collaborating with other states looking for a similar solution and that Diamond State has “kind of become a beacon for cooperative middle mile,” as it offers a model that allows electric co-ops to control their costs.
“The more bandwidth you grow, the more content you collect, the more powerful your voice is in negotiating pricing to get to these big anchor points for your network,” said Maglothin. “So we feel like there’s a potential future for cooperative companies working together like this where we become one of the largest bandwidth aggregators probably in the country.”
The 13 member co-ops are investing more than $1.66 billion in fiber infrastructure for DSN. According to Maglothin, less than 20% of that funding is from federal and state grants. But he expects that DSN will be eligible for Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) and Middle Mile grant funding, federal programs worth $42.45 billion and $1 billion, respectively.
According to Broadband.Money, a platform connecting local providers and networks with funding opportunities, Arkansas is estimated to receive $1.4 to $1.6 billion for broadband through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). But those numbers are still to be determined by federal broadband mapping data that officials say will be released later this year.
Notably, while existing FCC broadband data is widely understood to undercount the digital divide in the US, a recent presentation by the Broadband Development Group at the Arkansas Rural Connect Broadband Forum revealed that the state’s broadband gap may now be smaller than the FCC’s count shows. While federal data puts Arkansas’ digital divide at 250,000 households or 21% of the population, BDG’s analysis brought that to 209,000 households (17%).
Maglothin attributes this increase in broadband access to the work electric co-ops have done in recent years. “It’s because of the rapid onset of cooperative fiber being pushed out,” he said.
For this reason, and with more funding coming down through the BEAD program, Maglothin thinks that Arkansas can go from being among the lowest-ranked states in the US for connectivity to the highest.