“We are 100% fiber optic. Nothing else anywhere in our system. You absolutely cannot beat the speed, throughput and reliability of fiber optic networks.”
That’s Dave Williams, the Technology Services Director for Ponca City, a rural community located in North-Central Oklahoma. Dave joined the Fiber Broadband Association’s Fiber for Breakfast to share how his small town took on the role of a new utility service to provide ultra-high speed internet access to its residents.
Historically known as the home of both Cookshack Smokers and Head Country BBQ, Ponca City leaders wanted to attract more business to the area. In 1995, the City began hanging fiber for its own needs. That network expanded to local businesses by 2005, and the city grew its broadband offering further in 2007 when it began offering free City-wide Wi-Fi.
However, as time passed, the City set its eyes on providing 100% fiber optic internet.
“Our commissioners saw the need for adequate bandwidth and access to the internet as being critical for our continued growth and sustainability as a City,” Williams said. “They believe our residents deserve the same levels of internet access that’s available to anyone living in large cities.”
Williams said it is at this point that most people ask him, “If you already offer free Wi-Fi, why contemplate the expense and trouble of a fiber-to-the-home project?”
He said the answer is simple: “Our free WiFi system works for what it was intended for, but it doesn’t meet the current needs of residents accessing the internet. It’s great for sending emails, checking social media, and maybe ordering something online – but it wasn’t meant for streaming videos, hosting online game rooms, or any of the other bandwidth intensive activities most people are using the internet for today.”
When Ponca City began looking at FTTH, it already had around 140 miles of fiber in the air. Originally, Williams said, the plan was to utilize as much existing infrastructure as possible.
But as Williams conducted more research for the project, he realized that there was no room for cutting corners.
“It absolutely could not fail,” he said. “The money it would take to do it was substantial, and several careers and reputations were on the line because of it.”
He noted that Ponca was already in good position to take on this project, due to Ponca’s ownership of utility poles, an existing background in fiber optics and built-in shared services between the City’s other utility operations.
With the help of a professional engineer, they broke the project into five implementation phases, three of which are already completed.
While any fiber deployment project is costly, Williams offered the follow tips for success in building out similar projects: start with the less affluent part of town and save money on install.
“We started on the West side of town, where housing is much denser and utility easements offer easier access for installation,” he said. “With 65% of the population living there, even if our actual take-rate was lower than planned, the overall volume should more than make up for that.”
He said this approach also allowed for a revenue stream to be in place before paying for the larger construction debt to install on the other side of town.
When Ponca City first open its broadband service to residents in 2019, they served 1,900 homes and businesses. In 2021, phases two and three were completed, which brought the total served to 8,000 homes and businesses.
Williams projects after the final two phases are complete in December 2022, Ponca City Fiber will be in front of 15,100 total customers.
“We installed more customers this past August than we did in the entire calendar year of 2020,” he said. “September was higher yet, and October continued to see the same trend.”
Customer reactions to the Ponca City’s service have been phenomenal, he said, adding that he hears many residents say they have never seen internet as fast as they are now provided.
“Our customers don’t get ‘up to’ the bandwidth they subscribe to, they should never get less than that amount,” Williams concluded. “They simply get what they pay for--every time, and all the time.”
Hear Dave Williams’ full presentation on the Fiber for Breakfast Podcast .