Otelco upgrades



Last week Otelco announced its plans to invest $5 million to expand fiber and improve broadband connectivity across its service area in Alabama including its customers in Blount, Marshall, and Etowah counties.

“This year, Otelco began a major initiative to rethink our broadband deployment strategy in an effort to deliver the greatest improvements to the largest number of our customers in the shortest time frame,” said Trevor Jones, VP of sales, marketing, and customer service for Otelco. “By investing in fiber expansion and major upgrades to our cable and DSL networks, we are committed to bringing more bandwidth to all of our customers by this time next year.”

These changes are all about getting faster service to more customers sooner. While the company will add 113 miles to its fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) network in Arab, they are working on some major upgrades in both its DSL and cable service in Blount County.

“We recognize that our efforts must go beyond fiber broadband to serve our existing customers,” Jones said. “If we focus on fiber alone, our customers would wait too long to see connectivity improvements.”

Jones explained that most of the company’s Alabama customers were getting 12 Mbps or less earlier this year. The ones who will be getting the improved VDSL (very high-speed digital subscriber line) will have between 25 and 50 Mbps, and the ones getting fiber and cable will have up to 1,000 Mbps available.

“These are game-changer speed increases for many of our rural customers,” he said. “An unintended consequence of our singular focus on fiber the past few years has been that a lot of areas haven’t seen any improvements. People in Oneonta and town centers across the country were not getting what they needed. It was leaving people behind, and we realized we needed to take a percentage of our budget to focus on those needs and those customers.”

This refocusing will bring gigabit service to its cable TV networks in Oneonta, Rosa, Cleveland, Altoona, and Snead bringing the entire network up to the state-of-the-art DOCSIS 3.1 standard. The latest and fastest cable industry specification has the capability of delivering gigabit speeds for the majority of these customers. Approximately 6,000 locations will see the performance upgrade. This portion of the project will begin in the first half of 2020.

“When we started looking for ways to accelerate broadband deployment of higher speed services, the first place we looked was the cable TV system in Oneonta, Altoona, and surrounding areas,” he said. “Cable TV systems have the capacity to provide considerably more bandwidth than DSL, and can even provide gigabit-level download speeds if we move to an all-digital television network.”

In addition to the company’s initiatives in fiber-to-the-home and cable Internet, it will also deploy VDSL to the rest of the service area, which will nearly double the speed of traditional DSL. VDSL is the latest in digital subscriber line technologies, which Otelco will use to facilitate rapid service improvement to Blountsville, Nectar, Susan Moore, Snead, and Walnut Grove.

This strategy will provide customers who are still on DSL with speeds that are two to eight times what they can get today. They estimate that many of those customers will be able to get up to 50 to 100 megabits per second once the upgrades are complete.

“Investments that should have been made to upgrade our cable and DSL networks were deferred in order to focus on building fiber in areas that desperately needed connectivity,” Jones said. “And it’s true that the fiber that was being built was placed in the most sparsely populated areas, which means that each mile of fiber was helping fewer people than it could have if we prioritized our investments differently. With these upgrades, our customers will get more than what they currently have. It’s not where we want it to be or where it will be. But, it will offer faster connectivity and provide relief for now as we continue to make improvements.”