​Fiber to the Premises Across the Domain

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

All Sewanee leaseholders may soon have the option of subscribing to fiber optic internet service. A partnership between Ben Lomand Connect, Duck River Electric, and the University of the South would make the cutting-edge technology available.

“Once the agreement is signed all three parties are ready to move forward,” said interim Duck River President and Chief Executive Officer Charles McDonald. Laying infrastructure could begin as early as October.

Duck River would provide the connection to the home and Ben Lomand would take over from there and go inside the house, said Patrick Jordan, who oversees IT and system operations at Duck River. In some instances, the infrastructure would be underground and in other instances, overhead.

Ben Lomand Operations Manager Chad Dees said the one Gbps (gigabytes per second) service would be active as opposed to passive. When providers offer a passive connection, the one-gigabyte is split among 8-32 customers substantially reducing speed. Both uploading and downloading would occur at the one Gbps speed with the new fiber connection.

Among the benefits to customers and the community, Dees cited telemedicine, entertainment, telecommuting, and e-learning. Jordan noted the new technology would also enable Duck River to control home thermostats during peak usage for customers who subscribed to the service.

Providing background on the project, Eric Hartman who heads up University Risk Management, said the Board of Regents’ Committee on Innovation found a need for effective connectivity on the Domain. The University explored several partnerships with several providers.

Duck River recently completed a 330-mile fiber optic loop connecting the 16 counties it serves, said McDonald. The system gives Duck River real-time information during outages and allows for technology that reduces the number of customers who lose power, Jordan explained.

Duck River decided to lease unused portions of its fiber optic network to providers such as Ben Lomand.

“When you’re looking for someone to partner with, it makes perfect sense to look to another co-op who shares your vision,” said Ben Lomand General Manager Lisa Cope.

Cope cited concern for the community and exceptional customer service as basic principles of co-ops. Ben Lomand offers 24-7 network support and boasts a 90 percent first-call resolution rate.

Hartman said the University’s portion of the cost was $725,000. The University planned to pay for 15 percent of that based on the University’s ownership of 15 percent of the 555 leaseholds. The remaining cost would be divided among the other 472 leaseholders.

“We haven’t made a decision about how the cost will be spread out and over how many years, whether monthly, quarterly or annually,” Hartman said.

Subscribing to the Ben Lomand connection would be optional, Hartman stressed, offering residents another service provider in addition to Charter and AT&T. No landline will be needed for the Ben Lomand service.

The three-phase project would take 12-18 months to complete. Phase one would begin in downtown Sewanee and spread north and east through central campus and take six to eight months. Phase two, would encompass the west side of the Domain and phase three the south side. Phases two and three would take three to five months each.

Cope spoke enthusiastically about the partnership suggesting it provided a nationwide model for extending fiber optic connectivity to rural areas.

“It seems very optimistic we will move forward,” Hartman said.

Making arrangements with leaseholders and informing them about overhead versus underground connections would fall to Ben Lomand.