Dear Islanders,

Broadband is a broad term. It originally referred to any type of Internet delivery service that was faster than the old dial up Internet—remember the eerie screech? But broadband is generally thought of as wires (either buried or strung from a utility pole) that are made of fine glass—even finer than a single human hair.

These wires are called fiber. Fiber converts electronic signals into light. And then the signals are sent (at the speed of light) across the glass cables. We have only begun to reach the potential of fiber. It is fast, but it will be faster once the electronics that support it, like servers, speed up. At no time soon, will some other technology make fiber obsolete.

Wireless needs fiber

There is another way to say “wireless.” Radio. Wireless Internet is simply a way of using radio waves to send and receive data instead of sound or television. Thus, just like radio and television, you need more and more towers to cover an area as you try to send and receive more information. In a wireless system, those towers convert the radio signals back to light to send the information across the fiber cables. Thus, the two technologies work together.

Time Warner has been ripping us off

Right now the only game in town if you want fiber broadband is Time Warner (now called Spectrum). Time Warner sells what they call “high speed internet.” They have fiber wires on Grand Island. The problem is, however, that their “high speed” is not that speedy, because they oversubscribe. You see, Time Warner buys internet too, from large interstate providers. They divvy out that internet as sparingly as they can to save money. That’s why their advertisements say things like “up to” 50 megabytes per second. But almost no one has near that speed.

You can check the speed on your phone by downloading an app. Usually, in my office at town hall the speed is about 10 megabytes per second, but I’ve seen it much lower. Is that good? No way. It’s far below the national average of 28. And our national average is far below the world leaders. We rank about 15th. In Singapore and South Korea, you can reach peak speeds of well over 125 megabytes per second. Why do we care? Well, America is the place that invented the Internet. We were first. We should not be 15th. Further, high speed Internet offers more than better video quality for Netflix. It means access to a whole range of additional technologies (some of which we can’t even yet imagine). It also means participation in a whole world of opportunities and economic enterprises.

We need competition

Last week, the New York State Attorney General brought a case alleging that Time Warner has been deliberately “ripping off” (his words) customers of so-called broadband. The speeds they deliver are often not even close to what they promise. And they have gotten away with it because there was no competitor who was willing to step up and challenge them.

It costs a lot to lay down broadband. That’s why Time Warner’s competitors have not gotten into the game. You see, business can’t just make a little money. There are lots of places to invest, and they have to justify strong returns, not just some return. And God forbid if they break-even. I’ll put it this way, if you can buy a house that will double in value in ten years, why would you invest in a house that will only hold its value?

Thus, Time Warner has been able to do pretty much what they wanted. We had no leverage, none of us. But I have a way of making things more even.

We can be Time Warner’s competitor

We can lay down fiber across Grand Island. We would call it our “dark fiber,” network. Dark fiber is a term that refers to unlit (unused fiber wires) or private fiber networks. This would stop Time Warner from charging us to use their wires forever. But more importantly, it would be a call to all of Time Warner’s competitors that another game is in town.

Out there, beyond the bridges, is something called the “carrier hotel.” It’s not a hotel really; it’s more like a train station where all the carriers meet, like AT&T and Verizon. All their fiber wires go into that central hub. If we tap into that hub, these companies can send intel across our fiber lines. And then they can build wireless transmitters to send high speed Internet into neighborhoods across Grand Island. There may be other ways for competitors to reach our lines if we hang them up. In the trade, they call it the “middle mile.” If we build the middle mile, there is a good chance that someone will come in and lay down the “last mile” right to your home.

We can afford it

But as I explained, fiber ain’t cheap. But neither is our current Internet either—about 30 thousand dollars a year for the Town alone. But there is some good news.

We have audited the current Time Warner contract and they owed us some money. As I explained, they dropped off a check for 67K. We used that check to start a technology reserve fund. In addition, going forward Time Warner has agreed to pay us approximately 100K a year extra, which the Town Board has agreed to place in the same reserve fund. This money, will go a long way to paying off the dark fiber.

There is more good news. The school has access to huge sums of money to pay for Internet. Currently, they use that money to pay Time Warner. And they get some decent service. But that service is running over lines that we have already paid for several times over and still don’t own or control. More importantly, if we partner with the schools, the schools will get their own private network that they can expand as they see fit. And by helping us, the schools will have played a great part in ensuring our entire community has fiber backbone (right down Baseline) that others can come and build off of—middle mile to last mile fiber infrastructure.

So now you know

You now know that broadband is a loose term used to describe fast internet, including fine glass wires called fiber. You know that Time Warner is essentially the only residential broadband provider on Grand Island and that they have allegedly been ripping all of us off for years. You know that we can build our own fiber network and that the fiber network could eventually bring in competition for Time Warner (even talking about this has given them incentive to up their game—how do you think we got the check?).  And finally, you know that we have a reserve fund that will pay for much of this, and that a partnership with the school would allow us to pay for most of the rest.

Should we do what so many other communities are doing and take the plunge into building our own dark fiber system? I say yes, and now. Please, contact your Town Council members. Contact your friends on the School Board. Let’s have the debate, but let’s not just always say ‘NO’ because it’s Nate.  It's not too late. It's gonna be great!  (All right, I will stop rhyming now.)

With highest regards,