While the rest of the world is seemingly at a standstill, for some fiber-related companies—including ISPs, construction companies and consulting firms—there’s been an uptick in business.
As more people are working and learning from home, many are realizing the need for fiber. At the latest “Fiber for Breakfast” live web series, hosted by the Fiber Broadband Association, three fiber professionals discussed COVID-19’s impact on fiber deployment and construction. All agreed the influx of people using their internet has made its speeds and reliability top of mind.
For Clay Branch, director of Network Deployment at C Spire, the calls for service have increased since the COVID-19 emergency and the demand for both residential and business are up. And despite the increased use for existing subscribers, their network has remained strong.
“In many of our markets, we’re seeing demand increase significantly while people are utilizing their internet more,” he said.
Steve Sellenriek, president of Sellenriek Construction, said he’s had a similar experience. He’s increased his 250 person staff by nearly 30 people since COVID-19 hit laying down fiber lines in communities all over the Midwest. He said not only are existing customers pushing ahead on planned projects, his team is adding additional projects as well.
“We’ve picked up three more projects in the past week,” Sellenriek said. “Customers are saying we want to move forward because they’re seeing their demand pick up and they’re asking us to do it.”
Mark Tichenor, executive vice president of OnTrac, said they’ve seen a mixed bag. Some of their clients are seeing an uptick in installations, while others are reporting their customers delaying or cancelling their appointments due to COVID-19 fears.
Some of the companies they consult have also cancelled builds and installs on their own volition. Tichenor said one of their clients has had requests to service homes with a confirmed case of COVID-19, which led them to start issuing questionnaires before entering an occupied space.
“We have to employ a careful screening process as to the current health in that household,” he said. “Employees go through a list of questions and understand if there’s an answer that creates risks they need to reschedule.”
It’s one of many measures companies are taking to protect their employees. All three experts said their companies are doubling down on personal protection equipment (PPE) and social distancing measures. Sellenriek said he’s sending out crews at different times and encouraging them to work independently. Branch said their techs are coordinating with customers beforehand and discussing building entry with everyone.
Communication is key when it comes to customers, Tichenor said. It’s better to over communicate and confirm with customers where in the house (if anywhere) they need access to, explain to the customer they should feel free to be in a different room or out of the house entirely, and be understanding about rescheduling if need be.
“The right communication is significant,” he said. “It is clear that we as fiber companies need to make sure we’re giving the right communications to our employees and our partners about where we stand, and we need to give that same information to our client and that we’re outlining our safety procedures.”
Sellenriek said he expects fiber deployment to continue to grow, especially after the world starts to get back to normal. His only concern is if the shutdown continues, materials for the fiber build will be difficult to come by. Nevertheless, he said his employees feel as though they’re part of an important movement for connectivity.
All agreed this is an important time for the industry. Many people are seeing the value of fiber—both those who have reliable internet during this time and those who are struggling with their internet. Especially as online learning and working is so prevalent, having internet in the home is going to become a necessity.
“I see nothing but growth from this,” Tichenor said.
Join us for our next Fiber for Breakfast on April 22 at 10 a.m. ET. To see previous Fiber for Breakfast videos, visit our website.