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City Commission hears presentation on plans for broadband internet access to homes

Beverly Bryant - July 17, 2018 1:57 pm

The Ponca City Board of Commissioners heard a presentation by Technology Services Director Dave Williams Monday evening about the possibility of making broadband internet connection to every home within the city limits.

The plan includes making the project a new utility service called Ponca City Broadband, historically known as Fiber to the Home.

Williams talked about the evolution of home computing, from the first wave of home computers. He said that in 1984, only 8 percent of American housholds had a computer. By 2000, more than half of households had a computer, and by 2015 more than 80 percent had one, and about 42 percent had two or more.

The second wave, he said, was internet usage at home. In 1997 only 18 percent of homes had internet connectivity, but by 2000, 42 percent of homes had someone using internet at home; by 2015, the number was in the 80th percentile.

Since the turn of the century, the third wave has been taking place — the transformation from dial-up service to broadband.

With each wave in this transformation, speeds of connection have increased as have the number of ways people are using their computers, from entertainment, to working, shopping and countless other purposes.

Now, Williams said, connectivity has become as essential as other utilities, such as roads, law enforcement and water distribution and sewer systems.

Over the past 20 years, Williams said, speed of connectivity has improved greatly, which he demonstrated with this illustration showing a dripping faucet, a garden pipe and Niagra Falls. In addition to greater speed, much greater volumes of information can be transmitted.

Williams gave additional information on the City of Ponca City’s growth in creating a fiber optic cabling network throughout town. The beginning of the network started in 1996, for use by private businesses and communication needs, to necessary connectivity for Ponca City Public Schools and the hospital. About 12 years ago this infrastructure was expanded to provide Business Broadband services, and then the citywaide free WiFi system.

In a 2015 survey, an anonymous survey of Ponca City Utility Authority customers showed 84 percent of customers indicated that other existing internet options were not adequate for several reasons. Those surveyed also cited a need for high speed internet in their homes and agreed PCUA should be the providere of this service.

Williams said Ponca City formulated a Fiber to the Home pilot program in the fall of 2015 to test the city’s ability to provide high-speed internet access directly to individual homes.

That year, the city started working with a firm named Monte R. Lee and Company to provide high-level engingeering plans for a citywide deployment of Fiber to the Home.

To make such a project financially feasible, building the project out in incremental phases allows the city to build just the parts needed to support the various phases, or areas of town being implemented at the time.

Williams showed maps of five different areas of the city. The first area to have broadband installed would be called Phase 1, which is bounded by Fourteenth Street, Union Street, Bradley Avenue and Highland Avenue. It was chosen as the first phase for several reasons, including the density of homes, income demographics, overhead utilities accessible from the alley or curbside, and utility easements being least problematic.

The other four areas have not yet been designated for the next phases of development, he said, but the areas are being studied to determine what the most efficient schedule will be.

After Williams’ presentation, Lynn Merrill and Gary Beikmann of Monte R. Lee and Company presented information about their company and how fiber has grown since 1979 when the company started with four professional engineers. The company has since constructed 199 networks in six states.

They answered questions from the commissioners about the dependibility of fiber, how problems are detected in a fiber system, how bids are taken for construction and what is required from contractors working on their projects.

Williams said the City of Ponca City would not be in the business of providing content on the fiber network, but would “provide the road.”

“You decide what car you want to drive,” Williams said, meaning customers could choose between other content providers such as Hulu, YouTube and others.

Mayor Homer Nicholson asked about the warranty provided by the company. They said fiber from the 1980s is still working. Monte R. Lee provides a 1-year warranty on labor and electronics, and also provides an extended warranty for customers who wish to purchase one.

“Fiber does not age,” Merrill said. “It is a light wave, not copper. We’ve had fiber in systems for 15 to 20 years, and the only problem we have had is when someone cut the fiber.”

The company keeps a record of every splice made in a project and technicians are able to show exactly where any failure occurs, sometimes before a customer even recognizes there is a problem.

The City Commission and city staff will continue studying how a Fiber to the Home project will work before voting on the possible new utility at a future commission meeting.

 

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