It’s been nearly three years since news first broke of Frontier Communications receiving millions in federal funding to expand high speed internet service to rural county residents, as part of phase II of the Connect America Fund (CAF II) . According to county officials, communication has been sparse with the nationwide DSL internet and telephone service provider since work was promised to begin in the Spring of 2017. However, despite the lack of consistent communication, the expansion finally kicked off last spring in the Tomahawk area and resumed last month across the southern portion of the county.
According to Frontier Communications Manager of External Relations Scott Bohler, the Tomahawk area expansion was completed late last year with the installation of seven new DSL remote terminals; providing 633 households with high speed internet service at a minimum speed of 10 Mb/s. New customers were eligible to connect to the expanded service by the end of last year.
“This construction work is part of the CAF II program; a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that provides support for expansion of broadband to specific census blocks identified by the FCC. However, certain areas beyond the FCC-identified support areas will also see benefits from this effort,” he said.
Plans for the 2018 construction season call for over three times as many remotes and households reached, with 29 new remote terminals and a target goal of reaching 2,400 rural customers before work concludes late this fall.
“We are planning to build 29 new remotes placed out along the roads of Lincoln County,” Bohler adds. “These new facilities will serve roughly 2,400 households. There may be more remotes built in the coming years, depending on circumstances. The tentative completion date for the projects is sometime in the fall, but weather and availability of contractors and supplies can and probably will change that date.”
All remotes are fiber optic fed, according to Bohler, and as a very general rule of thumb, all customers should be able to get at least a 10Mb download speed if they are within two road miles of a remote terminal.
The overall project – slated to continue through the year 2020 construction season – also includes upgrading the infrastructure in the Merrill area, with a new and substantially more reliable transport system for internet service. The transport system and all connections to the remotes will be engineered with the anticipated increase in bandwidth demand that is expected over the next decade, and will be expandable should future demands on the network outstrip capacity.
Last week, Bohler provided the Merrill Courier with a map of Lincoln County, indicating the eligible census block areas he mentioned. Areas shaded in green are eligible to be included in the expansion, but all households in the area may not necessarily be reached.
“The green areas are the census blocks that are eligible locations to build under the CAF II program,” Bohler said. “That doesn’t mean that every household in those areas will have broadband deployed to their location, though. The program runs through the end of 2020, so all these areas will not be worked on this year. Our work on these green areas can continue for three more construction seasons.”
When rural residents can expect service from the new expansion, is a matter of when work is completed and when the company is able to complete internal procedures to market the new service capabilities.
“There is a time lag between when the construction is done in the field, and the new capabilities are actually available to customers to buy,” Bohler adds. “We need to do testing, update all our databases regarding what is available for a particular line or location, populate the systems that our business reps use as they speak to customers, etc. There can be a couple months between when the last piece of hardware is installed and when we are actually in a position to sell the new service to customers. Our marketing group does work to get the word out to customers when a new area is ready for sales.”
Note: Frontier Communications announced on June 6, 2015, it would accept $283 million ($283,401,855) in CAF II funding which the FCC the offered to the company in April of 2015. In turn, Frontier agreed to bring broadband internet service to more than 1.3 million households in 28 states. As reported by the FCC in June of 2015, $1,525,879 was to be invested for Lincoln County alone, with a projected reach of 3,830 homes and businesses supported. In July, the FCC has announced it will hold a Phase II auction, during which it will award an additional $2 billion. Under the new program, service providers like CenturyLink and Frontier can compete for support of up to $2 billion over the next decade to offer voice and broadband service in unserved areas nationwide.