Blue Ridge plots fiber rebuild of its entire 8,000-mile cable network

A sign that reads "Welcome to Pennsylvania"
The operator plans to push XGS-PON fiber to all 250,000 homes in the state it currently serves with HFC. (Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com)

Pennsylvania-based operator Blue Ridge Communications unveiled a plan to rebuild its entire 8,000-mile hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC) network with fiber to the home (FTTH), taking what the company’s VP of operations pitched as a commonsense step to future-proof its system.

Company exec Mark Masenheimer told Fierce Blue Ridge got its first taste of fiber when it completed a greenfield build in the city of Westfield earlier this year covering 1,600 homes. Now, it plans to push XGS-PON fiber to all 250,000 homes in the state it currently serves with HFC.

“We did financial analysis, we did technical analysis. We do feel it’s worth it,” Masenheimer said, adding “this seemed like the most logical, economical way to get symmetrical speeds to the market.” While the company’s gigabit HFC offering is satisfying customer needs today, “this is to future-proof and make the home wired connections the most reliable and fastest available to them.”

Work will be conducted on a county-by-county basis, with an initial focus on serving areas where Blue Ridge has the largest customer base. Construction is set to take place over the course of four to five years, though Masenheimer said a majority its customers will gain access to fiber well before the end of that timeframe. “We will go as fast as our vendors allow us,” he said.

The company worked with Calix and Clearfield on its FTTH build in Westfield, but Masenheimer said it is keeping its options open for the larger undertaking. He added it plans to use a mix of in-house and contract labor.

Though supply chain issues have been plaguing the industry and extending lead times for equipment, the VP said he’s hopeful Blue Ridge can avoid the worst of it.

“Our engineers over the years built our hybrid fiber coax system with fiber pretty deep into our system, so as far as the fiber goes we’re looking at only needing smaller count fibers. So hopefully those will be easier to get for us,” he said, adding “we also have a lot of fiber in stock.”

RELATED: TDS Telecom sees urgent need to increase fiber footprint in 2021

Blue Ridge joins a number of regional and smaller operators in pushing fiber to subscribers. Last month, TDS Telecom executives said they feel a “sense of urgency” around its fiber strategy. Shenandoah Telecommunications (Shentel) has also prioritized fiber expansion over cable, aiming to cover 74,000 homes with the former by the end of 2021 and bump that figure to 300,000 by the end of 2026.