Last June, MCTV launched Excellerate, a fiber-to-the-home internet service with symmetrical upload and download speeds of up to 100 Mbps. The project rested on an ambitious plan to deploy more than 1,200 miles of fiber, and one year later, approximately 800 customers use the service. That take rate is more than satisfactory to MCTV, winner of our Independent Project Launch of the Year award.
“At this time, our main goal is not to connect customers,” explains Bob Gessner, president of the Massillon, Ohio-based company. “Asking people if they want to switch from coax to fiber doesn’t do much. It’s not an easy sell. They don’t yet see the need for fiber.”
As a family-owned business, MCTV has the luxury of taking a long-term view of investments and returns. Excellerate grew not so much out of immediate customer demand as out of a recognition that demand will soar as more households begin to rely on multiple devices for high-bandwidth needs, such as gaming and streaming video.
Right now, the focus of the project is building the backbone, but there is no great sense of urgency in that regard either.
“We don’t feel a real time pressure to complete [the construction],” Gessner says about Excellerate’s deployment, in which fiber is paired with Passive Optical Network (PON) technology. The fiber optic connection is delivered from MCTV’s headend to a neighborhood connection, where it is spliced and then run to about 32 homes. The new network overlays the existing hybrid fiber/coaxial cable (HFC) system.
The first stage of the Excellerate deployment involved system extensions into unserved, rural areas, where customers had either dial-up or satellite internet service but no wired provider. “It was sort of a proving ground of our construction techniques,” Gessner says. “It also gave us an opportunity to test the cost efficiency of building fiber into rural areas.”
Two things that the Excellerate project has not involved are a significant increase in the MCTV workforce or a heavy reliance on outside contractors for design. Instead, it leveraged the MCTV team’s willingness and ability to reinvent itself. The company’s technicians were retrained for a fiber-to-the-home network, and Gessner credits them for taking the initiative themselves.
“Excellerate came from the guys in the field who said, `We think we can do this,’” he says. “They’re the ones who said let’s do PON. They did the research, tested the equipment, trained themselves on how to design and how to splice. They retrained themselves to be a 21st Century workforce.”
Technicians re-tasking themselves was possible because of MCTV’s decision in 2009 to go all digital. The company recognized that its system problems at the time were plant-related, stemming from both age and on-the-fly engineering, Gessner says. Along with an all-digital system, the company developed in-house tools for “proactive maintenance.” As a result, it was able to reduce the need for on-demand service technicians and preventative maintenance technicians.
MCTV Plant Engineer and Aerial Construction Supervisor Zack Kennedy previously conducted preventative maintenance of RF, and then he took the initiative to lead the aerial construction in-house. “Our teams started from the experiences we had with RF and have continuously learned new methods and practices that allow us to create a custom plant,” Kennedy says. “Everything that we are doing for Excellerate has been designed in-house and is custom to our needs.”
His favorite part of working on the Excellerate project has been the chance to expand his knowledge and expertise into new areas, Kennedy said. “Our team has truly taken this time to grow together, and the project has opened my eyes to a really impressive camaraderie among the individuals in the field,” he says. “We have one common goal—to empower our employees and our customers and strengthen the communities in our footprint, and that’s exactly what we’re doing with Excellerate.”
– Caron Carlson
- Established in 1965, MCTV currently serves more than 50,000 homes in Ohio’s Stark, Wayne, Summit, Holmes and Tuscarawas counties. This year, the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce awarded the company a Business Excellence Award.
- In support of the Excellerate launch, MCTV’s call center employees volunteered to learn about provisioning fiber.
- At the Excellerate launch party, Congressman Bob Gibbs showed up and lashed out a span of fiber.