Coldwater completes $4.2M city-owned fiber internet system

COLDWATER — Coldwater is officially "Gig-City Michigan," with completion this week of its $4.2 million project of high-speed fiber internet to homes and businesses in the Coldwater Board of Public Utilities service area.

The city obtained the website to promote its service. Gigabyte internet means users can download 1 billion bytes per second or 1,000 megabytes per second of information — 100 times faster than the average internet speed in the United States.

The system is popular, with 818 customers online at the end of September. More signed up, but only two crews are doing 20 installations a week. There is currently a two- to three-week wait. The system expects to reach 1,000 customers before the end of the year.

With the service, families can watch streaming services, live television, game or shop online instantaneously on one connection.

"This connectivity has become a critical component in all our daily lives, and this upgrade allows our community to grow and thrive all while living in rural America," said Branch Area Economic Growth Alliance director Lisa Miller.

Mayor Tom Kramer said earlier this year that, with more companies allowing remote workers, Coldwater should attract those who need fast high-bandwidth services. Besides the GIG fiber, "we have recreational facilities, a growing, developing downtown and provide a safe community."

The project, in conjunction with Aspen Wireless and subcontractors, came about after CBPU needed to upgrade its fiber network used to control all its utility systems.

CBPU initially looked to reap "smart utility benefits," such as real-time utility readings for time-of-use rates. That means people can use power when rates are lowest and manage bills.

The citizens voted to give the CBPU $6 million in revenue bonds to install a state-of-the-art hybrid fiber coax plant to provide local services. CBPU took over the local cable TV franchise, which resulted in the city becoming an internet service provider because it had cable on the poles. CBPU then inherited dial-up internet service from the library.

From the infant internet services, there were slow speeds, unreliable service and high prices from only one service provider.

Coldwater's entry into cable and internet kept rates competitive, lower than those outside the CBPU service area. CBPU kept that cost model for its fiber with only two prices. Residential customers pay $59.99, while business customers pay $79.99 monthly.

The city paid off those original bonds in 2017 just from revenues from the system. The current conversion to fiber was financed by CBPU through loans from its electric services and will be paid back from revenues.

"We truly believe this investment in the community will be the economic catalyst for Coldwater, which will assist in drawing in new residential, commercial, and industrial customers," said CBPU manager Paul Jakubczak.

The final costs of the fiber installation are pending. CBPU predicted it would be under the budget, but completion took six months longer than expected.

The old coaxial system will be removed from service next year. For reliability, all 17 fiber node locations have three communication paths, so traffic has two fully redundant paths if one node line is damaged.

The fiber system is passive and should not need to be replaced for 50 or 60 years. Upgrades will come with hardware and software improvements. Already in development are systems to increase speeds and bandwidth by ten times over the current fiber backbone.

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Fiber internet is available to all within the CBPU footprint. A call can schedule a connection appointment.

CBPU expects to receive a boring machine to install underground shortly. That unit will be used until the ground freezes during the winter. Those with underground utilities may see some delays.

— Contact Don Reid: Follow him on Twitter: @DReidTDR

This article originally appeared on Coldwater Daily Reporter: Coldwater Board of Public Utilities completed installation of a 1 gigabyte fiber optic internet service available to everyone in its service