New Alliance Advances Single US Rural Network

The US rural telecom market is moving closer to the goal of creating a national footprint of fiber optic networks and advanced services, with this week's announcement of a strategic partnership between two major players, Indatel and ANPI. (See ANPI, Indatel Link Services, Networks.)

Indatel is the service provider that grew out of a trade association of rural fiber optic networks that today encompasses 500 rural broadband providers and 25 statewide fiber optic networks. Associated Network Partners Inc. (ANPI) , also owned by a group of rural broadband providers, provides advanced services such as unified communications.

Their strategic alliance will involve coordinating their efforts, so that they can take a leadership role in building a national network footprint of advanced services on rural telecom infrastructure across the US.

A single rural broadband network is heavily favored by NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association , as its president, Shirley Bloomfield, explained at last fall's TelcoVision event. Rural broadband network operators have invested heavily in fiber optic networks, but major multi-location businesses often don't tap those investments, because of the difficulty of dealing with multiple small companies. (See NTCA CEO: US Needs 1 Rural Network Entity.)

"We really think what ANPI is doing with unified communications for businesses and rural carriers, and with IP-based hosted type solutions, is the future for telecom," Indatel COO Max Huffman tells us. "Where we come into play is all of those solutions need connectivity. That is our bailiwick. We see a great opportunity to work together."

Many of the rural ILECs connected to the Indatel network private-label ANPI's hosted unified communications services, among other offerings. David Byrd, chief marketing officer for ANPI, told us the alliance will help ANPI upgrade the quality of the services it can provide to ILECs.

"There's a lot of overlap in our customer bases, and by coming together, we're able to offer that customer base end-to-end quality of service," he said. "About half the ILECs we do business with connect to us via TDM. By leveraging their connectivity into Indatel, we can change those connections to IP."

The initial partnership is based on the two companies' interconnection point in Chicago, but Byrd said he expects it to expand quickly to additional interconnection points and a broader suite of services that can be offered to the ILEC community.

Indatel, which grew out of the need to market middle-mile fiber optic networks better, starting in 2003 with 12 charter members. It has grown into a network that includes 80,000 route miles of fiber optic cable across much of the US. Starting as a trade association, it later created a services company. Last fall, it went through a rebranding process to create a single organization.

Indatel's national fiber footprint

The Indatel fiber optic footprint is built on networks owned by rural telcos, which have evolved into broadband players and built networks across their local service footprint. Fiber deployments have been driven in part by the mobile backhaul demand, but broadband operators also are looking to connect businesses in their home service territories, Huffman says. Statewide fiber networks have grown up to connect these local networks.

"Mobile backhaul is big business for these middle-mile companies. We are serving well over 4,000 cell sites with Ethernet," Huffman says. "But our members also offer CDN [content delivery network] peering, Carrier Ethernet, and a growing amount of business opportunities. We are focused on carrier ENNIs [Ethernet network-to-network interfaces] as well as enterprise Ethernet. "

Indatel is building on the opportunities through a relatively new addition, a point of presence in a major carrier hotel in Chicago, where it operates an Ethernet exchange. The Chicago switching facility makes it easier for wholesale carriers to connect to the rural fiber networks that are part of Indatel.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, and Jason Meyers, Contributing Editor, Light Reading

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