Gigabit Cities

Sugar Beet Town Gets a Sweet Gig

The town of Sebewaing -- a small community in Michigan's thumb best known for being the state's sugar beet capital -- has joined the ranks of the most connected cities in the US with the launch of a gigabit network.

That network was built by Sebewaing Light and Water (SLW), the town's municipally owned utility. Sebewaing is the epitome of the underserved rural community and, as such, stands as a true test of both what a gigabit network can mean for small-town residents and its potential impact on economic development. (See 1-Gig: Coming to a Small Town Near You and Utility Brings Gigabit to Oregon Town .)

By branding the town as the "Gigabit Village," the leaders of the town of 1,800 people near Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay hope the ultra-high-speed broadband network might help make Sebewaing more connected and inject some needed new life into the local economy. (See Postcards From the Gigabit Village.)

"If we get one new business out of this, it will have been worth it," says Melanie McCoy, superintendent of SWL.

For the latest on urban network innovation, visit Light Reading's dedicated Gigabit Cities content channel. And watch for forthcoming details on Light Reading's Gigabit Cities Live event, to be held in May 2015 in Atlanta.

So far, response to service availability has been favorable, relative to the size of the community. SLW connected the first customers last July and, as of December, had received 375 orders and installed broadband service to 180 customers, McCoy says -- pretty good for a community with about 1,000 total homes that have no data connectivity options other than DSL. "Everyone here wanted fast Internet service," McCoy says. "They were hungry for it."

The utility needs 50% penetration to give it a seven- to eight-year payback on the network investment, she says. SLW is offering four tiers of symmetrical service, with pricing the same for businesses and residential customers: 30 Mbit/s up and down for $35 per month, 50 Mbit/s up and down for $55 per month, 100 Mbit/s up and down for $105 per month, and 1 Gbit/s up and down for $160 per month.

Only one customer -- a local campground -- has signed up for a full gig to date, but McCoy expects some customers to upgrade as SLW continues to educate residents about the service.

SLW deployed the E7-2 Ethernet Service Access Platform from Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX), as well as Calix's x 844G GigaCenters, which leverage 802.11ac wave 2 WiFi. The network was built by Earthcom, a Lansing-based network construction firm. The utility received no federal funding for the network buildout. Instead, all the money came from its capital reserve fund, and any profit SLW makes goes back into that fund.

— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, Light Reading

mendyk 1/13/2015 | 1:16:36 PM
Re: Idea As far as money pits go, there are a lot worse things to sink tax dollars into than broadband networks.
jasonmeyers 1/12/2015 | 7:02:12 PM
Re: Idea I think you're probably right that this could become a money pit, particularly if the village can't get traction and sign up subscribers. That's clearly why the commercial providers avoid building out high-speed networks in regions like this. This town might be small enough that reaching the 50% penetration rate to get a 7 to 8 year payoff on the investment is attainable. But that's likely not going to be as easy in a bigger small town, or a mid-sized city, or a big city. The important part of gigabit deployments in those places will be how the service is positioned and marketed by both the municipalities and the service providers (assuming they're not one and the same, as is the case in Sebewaing). The work certainly does not stop once they have finished network construction. 
Mitch Wagner 1/12/2015 | 6:55:02 PM
Re: Idea Good point. DSL speeds are certainly inadequate to today's business needs. If you're going to upgrade anyway, why not go for the best? 
jasonmeyers 1/12/2015 | 6:42:48 PM
Re: Idea I'm not sure about broadband in general, but the FTTH Council did this study on the economic impact of gigabit networks: http://www.lightreading.com/broadband/gigabit-cities/gigabit-nets-boost-gdp-says-ftth-council/d/d-id/711008

Personally I think it's far too early to make a determination. But it should be carefully tracked. 
jasonmeyers 1/12/2015 | 6:39:36 PM
Re: Idea The incumbent service providers in the region haven't provided anything beyond DSL speeds. The gig may be premature, but high-speed access certainly isn't. And if the utility can equip a fiber network to provide high-speed broadband and make it upgradable to gigabit speeds for little additional investment, why not future-proof the town? 
Mitch Wagner 1/12/2015 | 4:21:48 PM
Re: Idea My impression of the town based on this article and photo gallery is that gig Internet might be premature. Might be the town needs fundamental development work before gig Internet will do any good. 

You can't run before you walk. 
jabailo 1/11/2015 | 12:19:24 PM
Re: Idea Telecommuting is here to stay and growing.   A town like this would provide an attractive place for employees who can live anywhere ot relocate to.  Low housing costs and crime with the amenities of high speed broadband.   Today "culture" is delivered more frequently over the Web then at movie theathers, universities, or museums, so why not live where you get the best economic deal?


brooks7 1/9/2015 | 4:52:02 PM
Re: Idea ""If we get one new business out of this, it will have been worth it," says Melanie McCoy, superintendent of SWL."

So, have we seen any studies on the economic impact of broadband or super-broadband (old term I know)?


danielcawrey 1/9/2015 | 4:01:56 PM
Idea I think this is a great idea, I just worry whether or not this could become some kind of huge money pit. Hasn't that happened before? Isn't that the problem Google is having with its Fiber initiative in the Kansas City suburbs?
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