Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fiber optics being extended to rural area

Workers employed by Tjader-Highstrom used a machine to plow fiber optic cable through a wet area along 110th Avenue last week. Twenty-five miles of fiber optic will be added north of Baldwin which will allow cable TV, telephone and internet access.

Baldwin Telecom, Inc. began a plan to extend fiber optic cable to an area north of Baldwin two weeks ago where the existing copper cable had reached capacity. The project will result in installation of 25 miles of fiber optics cable.

Fiber optics cable allows transmission of phone, internet and cable TV signals over one cable on a much higher bandwidth than is possible with copper cable. The 25 miles of new cable will be mainly in the Towns of Hammond and Baldwin, but some will also serve small areas of the Towns of Emerald and Erin Prairie.

Baldwin Telecom, Inc. (BTI) General Manager Larry Knegendorf said the area that will be served by the new fiber is centered on Pine Lake and extends mostly to the west and east.

The facilities in the area where fiber will be installed needed upgrading "and we didn't want to put copper back in the ground," said Knegendorf. He said the present copper service had reached capacity and "it's not capable of handling what's coming down the pipe as far as bandwidth. We're building for future needs. The old equipment isn't capable of providing cable TV."

Other rural areas in BTI's territory that are served by copper have not reached capacity and there are currently no plans to install fiber in other rural areas.

The successful bid for the project was by Tjader-Highstrom, Inc. of New Richmond for $971,000. The project involves about 25 miles of fiber optics that will pass 180 to 190 homes. Two weeks ago that company started with the most difficult aspects of the project-boring under roads and laying cable through swampy areas. In wet areas the fiber optics cable will be contained in plastic pipe and in other areas the fiber will be within an armored cable.

Knegendorf said the project is a bit delayed from original expectations because of high demand for fiber and other telecommunications equipment from areas that have suffered natural disasters and have infrastructure that needs to be replaced.

Fiber optic cable is being encouraged by the federal government, said Knegendorf, through the agency that lends to rural communications companies.

Fiber optics is more expensive than copper because of complicated installation to the homes, Knegendorf continued, although because of escalating metal prices copper wire now costs more than fiber optic cable. The much higher bandwidth of fiber allows more services to be provided.

BTI engineer Ken Carlsrud said expectations are that the 25 miles of fiber will be installed by this fall and "hopefully be up and running on October." He added, however, that completion is dependent on supplies and the weather.

Brad Mortel of BTI said that one nice feature of fiber optics for internet is that no modem is needed in the home and that "eliminates a potential point of failure."

The bandwidth of fiber optics is much larger than with copper and that allows for cable TV transmission. Matt Knegendorf said one advantage of fiber and cable TV is that the coming digital transition will be taken care of on the Baldwin Telecom end. He added that BTI's basic digital package includes 140 plus channels including the Big 10 network and the B-W and local access channels exclusively. Cable TV also doesn't suffer from rain fade and local channels are free in high definition. Another cable TV service is digital video recording.

Shaymein Ewer of Baldwin Telecom said fiber optics allows faster internet connections, more internet sites and more interactive sites. He added that one study found that fiber optics to the home increased the average home value by about $5,000.