COLUMN – Fiber remains the best option for broadband

Published 2:25 pm Friday, March 26, 2021

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I can remember how everyone’s hopes were raised in Charlotte County when Microsoft teamed with MBC and promised to bring free wireless to all school students in the county using the newly freed up TV white space spectrum, all the while Kinex was building close to 15 miles of fiber in several areas and to most of the schools in the county.

We were asked to join the wireless testing, but we declined because we knew it would be years before it would come to a reality, and it would never replace fiber. However, we decided to stop building fiber in Charlotte County because if they did deploy the free wireless, although it wouldn’t compare to fiber, it would take all the incentive out of people purchasing fiber Internet, and we would suffer a financial loss going up against Microsoft, and we weren’t ready to take on that risk.

Jim Garrett

Eventually, the wireless failed and Charlotte County lost a willing participant to build more fiber.

I was reading the editorial on Elon Musk’s satellite internet and how promising it is. Although it may have been news to some, it was not news to me because I live this industry and keep track of all mediums and all builds and grants in the state and in the industry.

I have tried for years to get localities interested in fiber so the citizens wouldn’t have substandard internet and would move to the front of the class instead of settling for second-rate mediums. However, for years I haven’t been able to get municipalities interested in fiber because of the cost. Most would support wireless, but it was just a stop gap that would need to eventually be replaced, which ultimately stalled the deployment of fiber. Satellite, although it has improved, is a stop gap that diverts money from fiber and only will detract from the fiber investment that our community so badly needs.

During the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) conducted last year by the FCC, SpaceX’s satellite service had so much political clout they were allowed to bid against fiber on almost the same priority, which allowed them to bid all over the country, pushing down grant awards to such a low that many winning bidders are having trouble coming up with the balance of money needed to build fiber in the areas they won.

SpaceX did win some census blocks, but very few overall, and many localities are really upset because that has blocked any future money for fiber. SpaceX’s satellite would have probably been a great thing a decade ago, but we should not lose focus on the prize, fiber.

If enough people get SpaceX’s satellite in a census block, with their 80 megabyte to 100 megabyte internet that is affected by weather and has latency times much higher than fiber, the FCC will rule that area off limits to federal grants and so will the state, thereby blocking any future investment of fiber.

Kinex won $10 million in the RDOF auction to build fiber to every census block group in Prince Edward County that does not have broadband, to every census block group in Lunenburg County that does not have broadband, except two that another bidder won, and every census block group in Cumberland County that does not have broadband from the courthouse back to Farmville. I had to bid against SpaceX to win this grant money so that I could build fiber to almost 8,000 homes and make sure our area didn’t end up with second-rate internet that might take a decade or more to get replaced by the gold standard, fiber.

Will the satellite work? Yes. Is it better than nothing? Yes. Does it compare to fiber? No, not ever.

Go ask the first hundred or so clients we have built to in Lunenburg County or our ongoing fiber build in Cumberland Courthouse, Dinwiddie, Charlotte County, Chatham and so many other areas that we have built fiber in. Don’t take my word for it. Google it. MBC (the great fiber network built by the Tobacco Commission that has become the long haul model for the U.S.) tested a terabyte link across their network almost a decade ago.

We have 100 gigabyte links across Farmville using the same fiber we run to people’s businesses and houses.

SpaceX offers up to 100 megabyte speeds that are sometimes affected by weather for a much higher cost than our lowest entry speed of 75 megabyte that we run on 1 gigabyte circuits that can be opened to 1 gigabyte with the stroke of a keyboard, and it is not affected by weather. SpaceX has a $500 install fee and we charge zero, although we spend much more on labor and client equipment.

Kinex has been investing in our communities and wants to see our community prosper because it helps us all.

We are currently working through the engineering, planning, contracting, financial loans and hopefully additional grants to bring this fiber to the home project to fruition. We need citizen and county board support to make this a reality. Satellite is an interim medium until fiber arrives, so focusing on fiber now will be a game changer that will put our region on the map. Kinex’s plan invests $10 million in awarded grant money and another $10 million from generated revenue over the project term to make sure everyone in the areas mentioned above are served.

Please don’t take a short cut and short change the citizens of our region. Let’s build a fiber network.

Jim Garrett is the owner of Kinex Telecom Inc., a broadband provider in Lunenburg.