FairPoint has taken on the role of community broadband partner in Northern New England by working with towns and cities to better understand their broadband goals for their communities.
While most municipal broadband projects have centered on deploying a FTTH network, as a local liaison, the telco recognizes there’s no quick and easy solution to broadband development.
The service provider has instead undertaken what it said is a “customized treatment” for each municipality. Since there's there’s not a “one-size fits all” solution for these towns, FairPoint’s municipal broadband team does not push a particular technology like VDSL2 or FTTH.
FairPoint’s municipal broadband team is engaged in various phases with dozens of communities they have met with to talk about how they can help them develop or grow their broadband service.
Currently, the service provider is working with over 135 different communities in Northern New England, but the majority of interest is in Maine. The service provider said 85 Maine communities have reached out to FairPoint about developing a public/private broadband partnership.
Mike Reed, president of Maine FairPoint, told FierceTelecom that in some cases towns often don’t even know that the telco had already installed a backhaul fiber network to support a broadband service in their community.
“What we identified was that there was a great deal of interest from the towns and there was an assumption that they had, and I am not sure if it originated from the gig city efforts in the big cities or Google’s efforts, but there was an assumption that they did not have fiber or broadband,” Reed said. “We set out on a course to try to think of the best ways to communicate with the towns, let them know what we had for network in their towns and hopefully a preview of what may be coming to their towns, obviously associated with CAF-II to expand further into the communities.”
Sizing up infrastructure, goals
Instead of forcing a particular technology on a town, FairPoint looks at what a particular community already has in terms of infrastructure and match up a solution based on those needs.
Knowing what network infrastructure the city or town already has, the team then develops a strategy for each community, in which the team clears up misconceptions and explains what additional capabilities they think the area needs.
Jeffrey Nevins, director of regulatory and external relations and community broadband development, said that while some communities have an understanding, others have the perception that everyone needs 1 Gbps service.
“Our job is to meet with them and find out what their initial thoughts are, what they are looking at, and they obviously have preconceived notions about what they have in their community,” Nevins said. “We make sure they know what we have in terms of infrastructure, understand what services we provide and then we provide counsel and recommendations on what they should do.”
FairPoint has developed a broadband mapping tool that will show what network infrastructure the service provider has already installed in a particular town. Specifically, this mapping tool can illustrate where the telco’s fiber routes, central offices and remote terminal (RT) facilities are located.
Additionally, the mapping tool also illustrates the available speeds in neighborhoods and streets.
“It’s a helpful tool to have that dialogue,” said French Scott, director of business development at FairPoint Communications. “A lot of times it leads to the real conversation, which is what the town wants to do about improving broadband in their community.”
Two communities in particular that have made use of FairPoint’s municipal broadband program are Fletcher’s Landing, Maine, and Moultonborough, New Hampshire.
After working with Fletcher’s Landing, the unorganized rural township was equipped with access to a minimum of 7/1 Mbps, with many able to get 15/1 Mbps.
Likewise, in Moultonborough, the community used FairPoint’s mapping tool to identify three underserved areas. The telco was awarded two of the RFPs the town issued.
Nevins said when it begins a conversation with a particular town, the first question to understand what their broadband mission is.
“One of the things we try to get a town to do is understand what their goals and objectives are because every town we have met with is different,” Nevins said. “We have had towns going into the process thinking they want fiber to the home and we have others that have said we want a basic level of service and make sure our entire town is covered.”
As more employees work remotely, FairPoint has encouraged towns to develop plans that consider business and residential customer needs.
“We tell towns that when you develop a broadband plan, look at everything,” Nevins said. “When you develop a plan and a strategy for your community, look at residential and business communities because we’re seeing a lot of people working from home.”
Part of working with towns is figuring out how they want to fund the new broadband builds. During the review process, FairPoint helps communities address funding needs and issues, such as building duplicate networks.
FairPoint’s broadband team has encouraged towns to consider budgeting monies to fund broadband upgrades and look at the long-term challenges. They also urged economic development officials at the local level to include broadband infrastructure in their comprehensive planning process.
“One of the things we find that drives this is people’s desire to improve the economic wellbeing of the community,” Nevins said.
Nevins said that funding remains a key issue in how it will work with communities in its Northern New England territory.
“It’s very dependent on where the funding is coming from,” Nevins said. “We have been encouraging communities to start budgeting this so they can start developing a fund of money so they can do these things on their own and many of the progressive ones have done that.”
Fletcher’s Landing, Maine, conducted tax increment funding on a wind farm. This gave the township some additional money they allocated to extend broadband services throughout their township.
“They came to us and said we have a third of the town that’s not well served and asked what can we do?,” Nevins said. “We backed out of a remote terminal and covered the rest of the town.”