SUNBRIGHT — The days of 256k internet in Scott County will soon be history.
Highland Telephone Cooperative is entering the final stages of its massive fiber optic installation project, and in the beginning stages of converting homes and businesses to the new network, which will feature — among other things — dramatically faster broadband internet speeds.
Mark Patterson, the cooperative’s CEO, said Friday that the final stages of the fiber construction project will take about six months to complete for Scott County. The cutover of customers from copper to fiber will begin in Scott County once the cutover is complete in neighboring McCreary County, Ky.
“What this basically does is gives us the capability to build out the whole network, from the furthest point in McCreary County to the deepest part of Morgan County that we serve,” Patterson said. “Everyone will have fiber.”
Construction of the fiber network has been ongoing since 2010, when Highland Telephone announced an expansive federal package of grant and low-interest loan moneys to build the new network. The initial offering of the new fiber network was television — under Highland’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Highland Media. Homes and businesses in areas where fiber was installed could switch over right away, but those customers did not see increased internet speeds. That will happen in the months ahead as the backbone network capacity is increased, Patterson said.
Completion of the construction phase of the project is expected by the end of 2013 or early 2014 for Scott County. Construction of the network in the Huntsville and Robbins areas has been underway for the past 12 months. Crews there are “pretty close to starting to wind down,” Patterson said. That area will be the first part of Scott County to be converted to the fiber network once the cutovers in Scott County begin.
Construction has already begun on C-route and A-route, which include the Coopertown Road and Pine Hill areas. Construction crews will start construction on the D-route — the “4-lane” area of Oneida to Winfield — later this month.
“Folks are going to see a lot of construction, because they’re going to be working in high-visibility areas and the ones you’re going to start seeing are the ones that will be very busy,” Patterson said.
“Usually, construction in that time frame takes 120 working days,” he added. “We also have to allow for weather delays.”
The construction phase consists of building the line all the way up to the customer’s house, where a drop is placed that consists of plastic housing attached to the side of the residence.
Eventually, a second set of contractors will do the cutover.
“They come in and basically install the card, which is the guts of the box, then they connect the house wire and do the official cutover,” Patterson said.
A group of employees at HTC’s main office in Sunbright will be calling customers to schedule the cutover, which usually takes from 45 minutes to just over an hour to complete, Patterson said.
Once that cutover is complete, all customers will receive a five megabit-per-second download speed (one megabit-per-second upload). Purely from a technical standpoint, DSL will no longer exist; the new network is referred to as broadband. Because the project is being completed with funds as part of the federal broadband initiative project, speeds of less than five megs cannot be offered.
“No matter what DSL speed you’re cut over from, you’re automatically cut over to five meg broadband service,” Patterson said. “So those people who had 256k (the lowest DSL speed offered by HTC), they’re going to go up to five megs. They’re going to see a price increase, but they’re also going to see their speed go up about 20 times what it was. The people on the other end of the spectrum, their speed is going to go up about three times (from 1.5 megs to five megs) and their price is going to go down.”
The cost of service for five-meg broadband service will be $49.95 per month, Patterson said. For customers currently on Highland Telephone’s 256k DSL package, the price increase will be about $13 per month, while for customers currently on the 1.5m package, the price decrease will be about $10.
For customers currently on the middle-speed DSL package, the price difference will be “pretty much a wash,” Patterson said.
HTC will also offer 10-meg and 20-meg broadband service for those who require it. The residential cost of 10-meg service will be $87.95, while 20-meg service will cost $129.95.
The increased speeds are expected to benefit everyone from businesses to residential customers who use internet for online gaming.
“The online gamers I talk to tell me that speed is everything; your internet speed determines how good you are,” Patterson said. “So the increased broadband speed is something that they’ll be looking forward to.”
Teams dispatched by the HTC office to do the official conversion to the fiber network will consist of two-man teams. Initially, the conversion will include only internet and telephone, but contractors will leave packets of information with customers with details on HTC’s video offerings. For customers who wish to sign up for the television service, another visit to the premises will be set up for that installation.
Meanwhile, customers who were switched over to fiber over the past several years — primarily in the Helenwood area — will see their internet speeds increase in roughly the same time frame.
“We have 6,000 customers in Scott County, so it will take a while (to do the conversions),” Patterson said.
In addition to local residents and small businesses, the new fiber network is expected to be a boon to economic development, providing a significant boost to the area’s telecommunications infrastructure.
“Every business you talk to that looks to move into an area, the first thing they ask is what kind of internet access can we get,” Patterson said. “That is the way companies communicate anymore.”
While it will not be offered as part of Highland’s base packages because it far exceeds the requirements of most customers, the cooperative can accommodate up to 100 megabits-per-second for large firms that require it.
“Once (this fiber network) is in place, the capabilities are endless as far as what you can do,” Patterson said. “It’s phenomenal.”