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Charles City County, A Model For First Steps To Fiber
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Fiber in your neighborhood?


Nearly one in ten Americans worked at least one day at home last year.  Many more would work from home if they could have the same level of connectivity that they have at the office.  Already there are 38 million home-based businesses and according to the Business for Home website a new home-based business starts every twelve seconds in America.  From an economic development perspective, it means that neighborhoods have become business districts.  WideOpen Networks is working right now with a county that has over 8,000 home-based workers and businesses.

For over thirty years, my work mostly in technology has required me to spend a good portion of my working time at home.  Connectivity at home has been a priority since the days of dial-up modems.  At one time I had both a cable modem and DSL at our home in Roanoke County, Virginia.  Redundant Internet connectivity was essential for my job.

In 2015, I still work at home and the type of connectivity needed for a successful home office has changed dramatically.  The slow DSL from years ago would be totally unacceptable.  I no longer deal with mostly text-based messages.  Today I have the absolute best that I can get from Time Warner in a new subdivision in North Carolina.  I pay for 35 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload speeds.  My most recent test early in the morning showed a download speed of 33.76 Mbps and an upload speed of 4.98 Mbps.  Similar tests at night or on weekends show slower speeds.  On a recent Saturday morning my upload speed dropped to 1.6 Mbps.

While I have the best that I can get from my cable modem provider, it is not as good as what I need especially on a Saturday morning when I am still catching up on work.   Things have indeed changed. Today much of the expensive travel that we did for face-to-face meetings is handled through videoconferencing.  A videoconference with a customer, a corporate office based colleague and your home office is more often than not the minimum for an effective sales call.

My experience has shown that I cannot successfully go beyond a two person videoconference with my cable modem.  Even then I sometimes have problems with the quality of the audio or video.  That is especially true later in the afternoon when neighborhood children are home from school.

It is not easy to put hard numbers on what you need for a successful home office using the Internet. A lot depends on other Internet demands from your household. Netflix recommends the following download capability per stream of video:
  • 5.0 Megabits per second - Recommended for HD quality
  • 25 Megabits per second - Recommended for Ultra HD quality
I have been told by those knowledgeable of Citrix's GoToMeeting, one of the most popular business videoconferencing solutions that is commonly used by home based workers, that as long as only one system is sending through the line 5 Mbps should be adequate for videoconferencing but my experience has shown me that my connection which is supposed meet those standards does not work well.  When I turn on my video for the conference even if I am using the telephone for audio, I generally have problems.  It does work reasonably well if I just watch the video of the presenter but that leaves me as only a partial participant and that is not what I want in a sales call.

On thing is clear.  No one else in the house should be watching Netflix Ultra while I am doing a business videoconference.

The best analogy that I can think of for comparing a cable modem to fiber is water service.  When we first moved to our subdivision in Southwest Virginia in 1989, there were only a handful of homes and everyone was getting their water from a well in the subdivision.  The water pressure in our house was great.  About ten years after we moved there, the county decided that maintaining the well in our neighborhood was not cost effective.  They hooked us up to an extensive water distribution system.  Our water pressure and water quality went down sharply.  As the number of homes in our neighborhood increased our water pressure kept slowly dropping.  When we moved out of the completely built-out neighborhood at the end of twenty years, our water pressure was so low  that we had to have a home inspector sign off that our water pressure was as good as the county could deliver in the neighborhood.

Cable modems work similarly to a large water distribution system.  The more people using a neighborhood's cable modem system, the less bandwidth each person will get.  But you also have to consider that with solutions like video conferencing we need to pump data back through another set of pipes.  Unfortunately, cable modems provide us with asymmetric pipes of two different sizes.  The pipes taking data away from our homes are often 1/10 the size of what delivers downloaded data to us.  It would be much like having a standard 3/4" water feed from a main system to your house but then trying to wash your car with a hose less than one tenth of an inch in diameter. Similarly, a cable modem trying to do multipoint videoconferencing just would not work very well.

Surveys show that bandwidth needs are growing rapidly.  There are some who believe that a high-end Internet user's broadband needs will double every 21 months as new services are discovered. Can we depend on current copper technology to keep pace with our needs?  Most claims of high speeds from copper technology are unfortunately based on very short runs.

The most effective future proof distribution medium for the last mile is fiber. Fiber has tremendous capability out of the gate and has the ability for increased capacity years later with new terminal equipment.  It is already clear that those of us living in subdivisions at long distances from telephone and cable company switches will be unable to use the current buried copper to get much beyond our current speeds.

As more and more new Internet services become available, many of us will not have the bandwidth to take advantage of them. We are a little like someone having only enough electricity to run some light bulbs but not enough to run a refrigerator.

At some point the choice becomes doing without capabilities that we need to conduct business from our homes or cooperatively working towards bringing fiber to our neighborhoods.

If your community is ready to explore options for fiber connectivity that will make future technologies the building blocks of economic development in your citizens' lives, please get in touch with me at WideOpen Networks. Our company can be the Local Transport Provider (LTP) for your community. Let us build a superhighway to the Internet for your community. 

Send us a request for the WideOpen Community Assessment application. If your filled-out application passes our screening, we can do a rapid on-site assessment of your community's fiber potential for only $3,500.  Start down the road to becoming a Gigabit community today.


David Sobotta
Vice President of Marketing
Design Nine & WideOpen Networks
dsobotta@wideopennetworks.us
540-552-2150
www.wideopennetworks.us

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