Residents of Morgantown, Pennsylvania became the latest to tap into Windstream’s Kinetic fiber network earlier this month. But according to Jeff Small, President of Kinetic, Morgantown is just the beginning of Windstream’s plans for this year.
The newest passings in Pennsylvania are a part of Windstream’s national rollout to overbuild fiber on top of its historic DSL footprint. When it comes to Pennsylvania, Small is projecting Kinetic will reach 34,000 households total across the state in 2023. That’s little more than a tenth of what it achieved in 2022 and what it's aiming for in 2023.
“We’re building 300,000 fiber passings a year,” explained Small. “When you look at the end of 2021, we had 164,000 fiber customers. [At the] end of last year, [we’re] up to 289,000.” That means that at the close of 2022, Kinetic had snagged another close to 125,000 new fiber subscribers.
Each market due for an upgrade takes about six to nine months to launch, he said. As Kinetic’s fiber offerings roll out, some customers are naturally migrating from DSL services on over to fiber. In competitive areas, Small estimates market penetration to shake out to about 30 percent. For noncompetitive areas, though, expectations tick up to 40 percent.
Kinetic’s DSL reach crosses into 18 different states with a specific focus on the Southeast and the Midwest. A few considerations go into which markets get the royal treatment to upgrade from DSL to fiber. Kinetic’s overall broadband service area is 4.2 million households, with an average community size of 3,000 households. The focus is on serving rural areas like Morgantown with 2,000 passings here, 2,000 passings there. But there are still areas within Kinetic’s footprint that they cannot reach alone.
“We have to make sure the economics make sense for us,” said Small. “We can’t serve out to a lot of these high-cost areas of those communities.” That’s where state funds for broadband expansion or the federal funding expected later this year will come in to make that possible. That extra infusion of funds will help Kinetic go beyond clustered communities and build fiber out to households in the farthest reaches of their footprint.
In 2022, Windstream won more than $202 million in broadband grants in Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Thus far in 2023, it’s scored another $34.9 million in Georgia and has applied for several grants in Nebraska. It also secured $523 million in support covering 18 states from the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, which will be distributed over the course of 10 years. And of course it plans to chase plenty more funding from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.
Often, the construction workers actually installing fiber are the first ones to interface with members of any community. And from what Small has heard, Morgantown residents are enthusiastic to have a new choice on their hands for their broadband. The two core products in Kinetic’s fiber suite are a symmetrical 500 Mbps per month and a 1-gig service. It also offers 100 Mbps and 2-gig plans.
“They’re very receptive and excited,” said Small. “It’s life-changing to have access to those speeds for the first time.”
Even though some states are larger with potentially more customers – like Kentucky, Georgia, and Texas – Small was adamant that the size of a state or a market isn’t going to sway how resources and time are allocated to Kinetic’s upgrades. And with $42.5 billion in BEAD funding getting ready to be allocated later this year, Small is cautiously optimistic. “Predicting outcomes is very difficult. This is a competitive process to win those awards…[But] our planning is more geared around participating in BEAD,” he concluded.