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Taking the Pulse of a Broadband Stimulus Winner

Carol Wilson
LR Cable News Analysis
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large
1/29/2010
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A group of cable TV veterans, who believe they’ve found a way to cost-effectively use fiber-to-the-home in rural areas, has teamed up with a rural electric cooperative in Northeast Missouri to win $19 million in broadband stimulus funding from the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) 's Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP). (See Policy Watch: Stimulating Rural America .)

The network they are about to build could become a model for other rural electric cooperatives to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas.

At the heart of the successful application by Ralls County Electric Cooperative is FTTH technology developed by Dave Pangrac, one of the men credited, along with James Chiddix, with inventing the hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) architecture now used by the cable industry, while working for Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC).

As described by Pangrac, whose consulting company was acquired by Pulse in the summer of 2009, the patented technology “looks a lot like HFC, in that it has a distributed path architecture, and it uses typically no more than four fibers in distribution as opposed to the traditional PON [passive optical network] with hundreds of fibers.” (See Pulse Picks Up Pangrac)

Pangrac and Don Gall, his partner in Pangrac Consulting, own a patent on the system and have licensed it to CommScope Inc. , which has been manufacturing and distributing the technology for the past four years, Pangrac says. The system uses a distributed tap architecture for easy deployment of drops and is cost-effective at population densities of as few as four homes per mile. (See CommScope Sees BrightPath for Cable FTTP.)

In a greenfield deployment, such as what Pulse is doing with RCEC, the system can support baseband IP delivery and QAM delivery of TV signals or analog signals simultaneously, Pangrac says. And because it is a fiber-to-the-home technology, the drops can be as much as a mile off the tap port of the cable.

“This is the world’s simplest approach -- it really is a low-level approach to how do you make this cost-effective,” Pangrac says.

Pulse holds an exclusive license on the technology for deployment in rural areas and first tested it with the rural cooperative that serves Pangrac’s home in New Mexico, says CEO Bill Shreffler. Pulse began meeting with electric cooperatives after that and found a quick ally in the Association of Missouri Electrical Cooperatives, which put the word out to its membership.

RCEC, which serves about 5,000 businesses and residents in Northeast Missouri, stepped up to join Pulse in submitting a stimulus grant in August of 2009. The grant had several things going for it, Shreffler points out.

The open access approach is one major plus: Pulse will serve as a wholesaler, opening the door to any cable, telco, or ISP that wants to provide a retail service or service bundle.

In addition, RCEC -- and other rural electrical cooperatives that work with Pulse -- will benefit from smart grid technology installed as part of the build, gaining automatic meter reading and advanced metering infrastructure, says Shreffler, another cable veteran who was most recently president and CEO of Broadstripe .

“For us, rural electrical cooperatives are the perfect partners because they are already out there, with the rights of way and utility poles,” he says.

Since winning the stimulus money with RCEC, Pulse has been deluged by calls from other cooperatives, according to Shreffler.

Pulse is also in negotiations with service providers that want to use the RCEC network, although non-disclosure agreements prevent Shreffler from identifying them or saying whether or not AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) -- one of the incumbents in the area -- has expressed any interest in the RCEC network.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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