GigaBit County: An Update on the Kent County Fiber Network

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The optical fiber network spanning Kent County—which will enable gigabit (1000 megabit) internet access to every County facility and to any home or business that wants it—is nearly complete. Despite rumors to the contrary, the fiber buildout is on schedule and on budget, according to FTS President Adam Noll. In fact, virtually the only part of the backbone network that remains to be built are the fibers serving the towns of Chestertown and Rock Hall. Noll says that construction of Rock Hall will begin in the next 2 weeks, now that plans of the existing underground utilities have been found.

Meanwhile, the company hooking up individual homes and businesses to the fiber and providing high speed internet access, Think Big Networks, reports that it is already providing service to more than 100 customers, including Dixon Valve and La Motte—the County’s largest businesses—and has many more ready to install. Mark Wagner, CEO of Think Big, says that progress has been slower than he hoped, but that it is steady. He sees no reason that they can’t connect any Kent County residence.

The fiber installation in Chestertown has been delayed because Delmarva Power, which owns the above-ground power poles, has demanded a price that FTS considers way above market rate and refuses to pay. Delmarva Power can demand such fees because FTS is not a regulated carrier in the state of Maryland (it is in other states), but Noll says one solution is for FTS to apply for regulated status, which would guarantee access to the poles. Another possible solution is to use micro-trenching techniques to put the fiber underground. In any event, Noll says that Chestertown will soon get fiber too, one way or another.

One cause of the rumors—and a recent pause in the fiber buildout—was a management reorganization at FTS, which resulted in Noll becoming president and taking charge of day-to-day operations. But the buildout is not at risk; in fact, FTS’s prospects are much larger than Kent County and are best understood in terms of that larger context.

The Kent County fiber network is just the first of what FTS hopes will become a major business connecting rural counties—in Maryland and Virgina to start with. Central to that plan is the company’s planned fiber ring connecting a new undersea cable that comes ashore in Virginia Beach to the major internet hub in Ashburn, Virginia. The ring—one arm through Virginia and the other through Maryland’s Eastern Shore—would contain hundreds of fibers, enabling County governments, large internet data centers and other companies, and residential internet providers to access or provide high speed internet.

The new undersea cable connects Bilbao, Spain to Virginia Beach and provides an alternative to cables that go through New York City (and whose vulnerability was demonstrated by superstorm Sandy).  The cable is being built by Microsoft, Facebook, and the Spanish company Telefonica and will have the highest capacity of any undersea cable yet, capable of transmitting 16o terabits per second (roughly the same as 71 million high definition movies every second).  It is expected to begin operation in 2018, and its presence will transform the entire region, as well as underlie the business case for the FTS ring. The ring, in turn, will be the main revenue source for FTS, but it is what enables the County networks, where the financial return is slower.

For Kent County, says Noll, access via the FTS ring both to the internet hub at Ashburn and to Europe creates a huge opportunity to attract internet-based businesses and young, internet-savvy families.  And at least for now, Kent County is unique on the Eastern Shore in having that opportunity. FTS was negotiating a similar contract with Queen Anne’s County, but would face higher costs per foot of fiber installed (it’s a much larger county). Queen Anne was not willing to pay a higher price, and they additionally demanded that FTS provide a bond to guarantee completion. Noll says that it simply did not make business sense, and so FTS walked away; it will instead focus on building its larger ring and exploring opportunities in some Virginia counties.

In summary, FTS is a major internet infrastructure company that is currently building a high-speed fiber ring through Virginia and Maryland, that conveniently passes through Kent County.  Think Big is the local company that connects local businesses and residences to this high-speed fiber network.  This provides a wonderful opportunity for Kent County. The completed network may open the doors to economic development unlike any the county has experienced in living memory.

 

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Letters to Editor

  1. Josiah Woodfield says:

    Dear Editor,

    It would be wonderful if indeed these glorious claims were true. I am a 25 year resident of Kent and these issues strike close to home. Unfortunately, for us residents of Kent County, we have been the victims of poor leadership on the part of our commissioner’s office and will be footing the bill for years to come for this project which we are dubious will ever reach completion.

    Our commissioners did not demand a bond as suggested by many advisors and business people in Kent County and which was required for the contract in Queen Anne’s County in accordance with Maryland law. The fact the FTS is not willing to provide bond to guarantee completion speaks to the character of their company.

    Hill, FTS, and ThinkBig have collectively had 6 lawsuits filed against them by the vendors who put the fiber into the ground.

    Reports are already coming in of ThinkBig’s quotes into the THOUSANDS for hookups of businesses in the Kent County area. Since when is that affordable fiber for our residents and small business owners? Even more reports of residents waiting MONTHS being strung along with excuses and no hookups. This article claims that all of Kent County is completed with the exception of parts of Chestertown and Rock Hall. What happened to residents of the Kentmore Park area on Glencoe Road that are still waiting for hookup after months of waiting.

    Facts are simple. It is a bad contract with no guarantee of completion and reports from our residents that it is NOT going according to plan or promise.

    -A Concerned Kent Native

  2. Thank you for this exciting news!

  3. Patricia Ervin says:

    This all sounds too good to be true. I too have been patiently waiting for connection and updates. My signed, completed, notarized Customer Agreement was submitted November 21, 2016. It got misplaced. After months of going back and forth, I finally took the time to go to the Chestertown Office. Was able to execute the Agreement again May 4, 2017. Was told that it would take about 6 weeks for the engineers to have things ready but they were tied up with “legal things” in Kentmore Park. Well that time has come and gone. Not a word. I have called and left several messages only to be told that someone would get back to me, which they don’t. My last message (to a human) was November 2, 2017. Still waiting ……

    I work from home and this service is a necessity for me as my current option is satellite. I attended several of the commissioner meetings as I was eager to learn more about this project and fully support it.

    Very disappointed is an understatement.

  4. Alexander says:

    Just a thought.
    Chestertown and Rock Hall are not the only missing links. Parts of Worton, segment 20, has been “Construction Ready” since June 14, 2016. Checking with the office of Think Big Networks, we are told that we are on schedule to start the trenching. We should see some action in 2018.
    We at Worton may have to wait for the rest of the County to be “Fiber Lit” but hope to be online sooner rather than later. We look forward to the day the “Progress Update” on the Kent County Fiber Network web page lists us as “Construction in Progress”
    Thank you.

  5. Jordan Clark says:

    Recently we had a representative stop by my business in Worton, off of St. James Rd.. When I asked what the timeframe for completion in our area would be, the representative told me “not any time soon.” And, on top of that, she asked what we “would be willing to contribute to the infrastructure installation costs” for coming down our road. And, she seemed to insinuate that by pledging additional money, that we would be bumped up the line for installation. It was my understanding that homes and businesses would only be asked to pay a small “connection fee” to connect to the already installed infrastructure; not that we would have to be pledging additional money to help offset their costs of laying the infrastructure. After speaking with this representative, I felt as if I had been shaken down, and was not left with a very positive outlook on the completion of “county wide fiber optic internet.”

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