TDS carves out 1 Gbps niche in the rural FTTP market

HOLLIS, N.H.--TDS Telecom's 1 Gbps fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) drive may not have the same sizzle as Google Fiber's (NASDAQ: GOOG), but the telco's aggressive move to expand the service into rural towns like Hollis, N.H., shows that the demand for service is not just a big city phenomenon.

New Hampshire has been one TDS' key targets for the 1 Gbps service.

In November, the service provider set Antrim, Bennington, Chichester, Deering, Henniker, Hillsborough and Hopkinton as the latest areas that will be able to get the 1 Gbps Internet service.

Earlier, the telco began rolling out the fiber-based service in New London and Hollis.

Given the diversity of the rural towns and cities it serves in New Hampshire, TDS faces various challenges in rolling out FTTP, including staying on top of local ordinances while dealing with challenging weather conditions that can sometimes delay rollouts.  

Understanding local challenges
TDS saw an immediate local challenge first-hand, particularly this winter in New Hampshire, which was beset with an array of snowstorms that hit the Northern New England region.

The service provider said that the winter snow can often make it difficult to find outside plant pedestals to terminate the fiber and underground connections into a home.

"In Hollis there's a lot of underground service into a home and that's somewhat of a challenge for winter deployments and trying to find pedestals buried under six inches of snow," said Ron Troyer, manager of field services for TDS Telecom, in an interview with FierceTelecom.

But even before any network builds are started, the service provider has to secure a franchise agreement with the local town.

"Before we even start offering the product in a community, there's a process we have to follow with franchises, so there's a certain amount of regulatory work up front and once that's approved by the town then we start the marketing," said Perry Speaker, market manager for TDS Telecom. "Usually about two months before the launch we'll start marketing the product, which involves a door-to-door team that goes throughout the community and presents the product and service to the customer base and offers incentives for early signups."

Besides getting the necessary permits, the service provider continues to make an effort to present itself as a partner within each community where it provides service.  

Unlike large companies like Comcast, TDS said that it continually reaches out to the community to educate residents about their services at local events.

"From a marketing standpoint, we really separate ourselves from the competition by getting involved with the local communities," Speaker said. "We look at the local calendars in the communities we serve, we partner with local organizations and participate in local events like parades, Old Home Day events and here in Hollis, we did a demo event with a non-profit about our products and services."

Scaling upwards
Throughout the rest of 2015, the key focus for TDS Telecom in New Hampshire will be making the 1 Gbps service available to more residential customers.  

The company said in January that it plans to get to 25 percent of its access lines with FTTP this year. TDS Telecom said in December that it plans to expand its fiber network by laying 800-900 miles of cable in 2015, a build that will support its ongoing 1 Gbps data services.

Within its New Hampshire territory, TDS is moving to bring 1 Gbps services to its Farmington, N.H.-based subsidiary Union Telephone Company, which it purchased in 2009.

Supporting the growth of the 1 Gbps service is a 10G backbone that supports the core connections into both Chicago and New York. In New Hampshire, TDS has built a ring for network diversity and redundancy that it plans to scale to 40G this year.

"Across New Hampshire we have a ring that links all of its properties together to create that diversity and two drain points where we'll end up with 40 Gbps of backhaul capacity transport in the coming months," Mike Bewersdorf, senior network specialist for TDS Telecom, told FierceTelecom. "We brought Maine and New Hampshire on a ring so the key here to our short-term success is the commonality between the serving areas to reduce those monthly backhaul costs."

All of this is fed into nationwide head ends in Wisconsin and Tennessee, meaning that the service provider in New Hampshire just needs to add the off-air channels.

"If we had to replicate all of the head end activity in every office it would be hard to make a business case," said Bewersdorf.

From a subscriber point of view in New Hampshire, the service provider is moving to bring 1 Gbps service to Wilton, N.H., and its MCT Cable and Union Telephone company subsidiaries.

Bewersdorf said the company "passed 11,000 addresses last year and we have 16,000 we're hoping to issue before the end of year in New Hampshire."

But New Hampshire is just one of many communities where TDS Telecom is advancing its 1 Gbps ambitions. The telco continues to make progress in rolling out 1 Gbps service in its home state of Wisconsin.

Earlier this week, the service provider said it launched 1 Gbps service in parts of Black Earth, Middleton, Verona, and Waunakee, Wis.

Surpassing cable's speeds
Now that it is offering 1 Gbps service, the other question is how its main cable competitors Comcast and Charter will respond to the service.

TDS executives said they have not seen cable respond with a competitive service.

What's more, customers have continually told TDS that besides getting higher speeds than what the cable MSOs can provide, they are saving between $60-70 a month on data services.

"We had customers saying they are saving $60-70 a month for a higher speed," Speaker said. "It might not be the 1 Gbps, but they would be getting more TV channels and higher speeds at a lower cost."   

For more:
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