The cable industry better fervently hope that they do things differently in Tennessee because what’s going on in Clarksville, TN, could portend a bigger threat to the industry than the Hollywood writers’ strike.
The Clarksville Department of Electricity has veered off the grid in an interesting – and, for incumbent service providers – painful direction in an effort to save money spent monitoring and servicing electric meters throughout the community of 120,000 people. It’s building a 680-mile fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network to connect to every one of 55,000 meters throughout the city.
Since a fiber network to read meters is a bit of overkill, even if it does save 130,000 $30 truck rolls a year, the city has developed some other uses for the minimal 100 megabits of bandwidth it’s feeding directly to every residence and business in the city.
"We’re beginning an early testing phase with video, Internet and phone services, and hopefully we’ll be able to go live with sales options for some of our first available areas by the first of December," said Christy Batts, telecom marketing manager for the City of Clarksville.
The triple play, she said, will be offered as the fiber itself reaches premises. The CDE is using World Wide Packets’ carrier Ethernet technology to build the network to every residence and business that has electricity. FTTH and carrier Ethernet won the day as the method of choice over passive optical networks (PON) and broadband over power line (BPL), which, at first glance, might seem the most logical transport for a power company. Logically absurd Marty Hess, marketing director with World Wide Packets, exposed the absurdity of that idea, however, noting, "If your primary service is delivering electricity, and your network to validate service is on the same delivery mechanism, and you have a failure, then you no longer have connectivity to the location."
And, as long as the city chose FTTH and carrier Ethernet, it was not a major leap – or hell, any kind of skip or jump – to figure the network could handle more than just reading electric meters.
"Out of the gate, there’s 100 megs to each meter, and triple play services can be rolled on top of that," said Hess. "Since you have 100 percent penetration, you have the entire market potentially to sell to."
That somehow seems to trump cable’s supposed 70/70 deal the FCC has its knickers in a bunch about, and, of course, that kind of penetration did not delight incumbents Charter Communications and AT&T, Batts conceded.
"There was a little bit of grief and frustration on their part, but the incumbent (Charter) is making improvements to their service and to their customer service," she said. "In the long run, the best thing out of this is going to be for the consumers who are going to have a couple options to choose from. It’s going to make both of us work very hard to maintain our customer base with good customer service and good product."
It would be remiss – albeit redundant – to point out that the city has a bit of an advantage, technology-wise, with its fat fiber pipe snaking out to every home and business. According to Hess, though, the city needs that advantage.
"If I’m going to compete against the incumbent, I can’t just sell a me-too service," he said. "They’re doing the voice-over-IP, IPTV and 10 meg data service flat rate today, and they have the ability to scale up to a gig if necessary. It gives the local community a lot of legs to compete against the incumbents for a long time." – Jim Barthold