Small towns across the nation are ditching large Internet service providers like Time Warner Cable and Comcast in favor of building their own infrastructure.
Could Wellington ever join them?
That’s the question resident Andy Landis raised at a recent village council meeting. He referenced the benchmark of 25 megabits per second download speed that the Federal Communications Commission set as the minimum for what’s considered “broadband” access in 2015.
Landis said speeds provided in Wellington by companies such as Frontier Communications and GLW Broadband hover around 6 to 8 Mbps per second.
“Right now we don’t have very good options for Internet service in Wellington,” said Landis. “You’re looking at 6 Mbps for a basic package at Frontier and it’s just not up to par with even other rural areas.”
He said his parents, who live in a rural area, recently had their Internet speed upped to 30 Mbps with Armstrong, a provider based in Ashland but unavailable in Wellington.
The FCC’s 2015 ruling does not force Internet service providers to provide 25 Mbps speed — but it does strongly recommend they should not advertise service as “broadband” if it does not meet that threshold.
As of Sept. 6, GLW’s website calls service packages “broadband” that fall well below 25 Mbps download speed. Its “broadband turbo” speed is the fastest but is currently unavailable and maxes out at only 12 Mbps.
Frontier’s site offers a phone number for what it calls “hi-speed” Internet, but doesn’t list specific download speeds.
“I invited Armstrong to come here and discuss Wellington in February,” said mayor Hans Schneider to Landis. “They came up but said it’s not their style to piggyback on another provider. We pretty much asked them to come into Wellington but they will not at this time.”
Landis responded by asking whether Wellington could lean on Frontier and GLW to provide faster speeds, citing that slower speeds can potentially discourage homebuyers from coming to Wellington.
Council member Guy Wells said the subject of Wellington building its own network infrastructure has come up in the past. Typically, areas that do so install fiber-optic networks that reach download speeds of 1,000 Mbps, something that has never been approached by privately-owned American providers.
This practice has been especially popular in rural areas such as Flora, Miss., where roughly 5,000 residents pay $80 per month for 1,000 Mbps fiber-optic Internet.
Investors are often wary of coming to an area with lower population numbers and residents who are spread out geographically. Southern Minnesota communities formed a cooperative, RS Fiber, to get around this issue.
“I would love to explore the possibility,” said Wells. “Many federal laws have been handed down to keep communities stifled when it comes to Internet access. If the village can set up an electrical grid that everyone has access to, then the same can be done for Internet at some point. Talks have been had in the past with North Coast Wireless to improve our setup but nothing has ever materialized.”
Matt Fridenstine, president of North Coast Wireless, said his company does offer 100 Mbps service to village hall and 25 Mbps to residences.
He said while Armstrong’s 30 Mbps service sounds good on paper, its customers are subject to charges each month if they go over a 160 gigabyte bandwidth cap, while Frontier and GLW provide uncapped plans. He added that before Armstrong began using caps, it offered similar speeds to Frontier and GLW.
“We have a tower north of town, a tower in the center of town, and a tower at our office on Erie Street,” he said in an email. “From these towers we cover about 35 percent of the town with bandwidth up to 25Mbps. Around 60 percent of the town could get service but not much faster than 3 Mbps. Our technology is known as Fixed Wireless and uses similar technology as cable. We own some fiber in the town and have access to leased fiber in the town as well. We have considered piloting a FTTH (fiber to the home) project on a couple streets in town to become familiar with the technology as well as see just how feasible it is to deploy here.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.