When Gigabit Communities Go Rogue
A gigabit network deployment in Pelican Bay, Fla., provides a good example of what can happen when fed up (or, perhaps, underfed) broadband consumers take matters into their own hands -- and should serve as a wakeup call for broadband service providers that may not be paying enough attention to the needs of their niche customers.
Pelican Bay, a private homeowners' association near Naples covering 6,500 residents in a gated community, was snubbed, it seems -- or at least glossed over -- by the two incumbent broadband providers, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), that serve the region. Maybe the operators thought the development's older population didn't provide a lucrative customer base for ultra-high-speed broadband, or because the community's population shrinks by more than 60% in the summer months.
In any case, the members of the community -- many of whom, it turns out, are retired tech industry executives -- got tired of the mediocre quality and customer service they were getting from the incumbent providers. So a few years ago, they banded together to do something about it.
"They act very much like a municipality. They have their own budget committee and streets department," says Scott Bowles, president of Spectrum Engineering, which developed a fiber-to-the-home plan and oversaw the buildout of the network in conjunction with partner Summit Broadband. "They were very disappointed with the level of service they were receiving, both in terms of the quality of the product and the interaction with customer service."
Using Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN)'s Total Access 5000 platform, Summit built a system for Pelican Bay capable of delivering gigabit speed access to residents as well as businesses -- including two resort hotels within the property.
"We always had these siloed networks -- data centers got this, small business got this, large business got this -- now it's all bleeding together," says Kurt Raaflaub, senior product marketing manager for Adtran's carrier networks division. "Residential broadband networks are getting to a level of capacity and sophistication that's allowing them to bleed over into other verticals, allowing a service provider to provide the levels of service that businesses need. Because of that, as vendors we're seeing this consolidation of services into these single platforms."
In the broad scheme of gigabit cities deployment models, the Pelican Bay deployment offers a look at what could happen in more communities that aren't getting served by traditional providers but see the value of gigabit speeds for their residents and businesses. Smart network operators, it would seem, should seize the opportunity to cash in on the public-private partnerships these kinds of scenarios offer. (See 1-Gig: Coming to a Small Town Near You and Tales of the Gigabit City, 2014 Edition.)
"This is the most innovative business model we’ve been a part of -- the residents knew exactly what they wanted and weren’t afraid to make those demands known," Bowles says. "It’s a great model for other communities looking to take charge of their infrastructure."
— Jason Meyers, Executive Editor, Light Reading