Internet access set to expand

About 150 more Brown County households will be getting high-speed internet within the next few weeks.

Mainstream Fiber Networks plans to begin construction on about 11 miles of new fiber optic cable this week. The company estimates it’ll take about 60 days to complete the work.

All of Morrison Road and parts of Grandma Barnes Road, Helmsburg Road, Lanam Ridge Road and Owl Creek Road are included in this expansion, a news release from Mainstream says.

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Residents who were interested in service first completed a survey to gauge interest and define the area; then, they completed the company’s sign-up process until enough customers were committed to make the expansion possible.

John Tiernan was one of the “zone champions” who was encouraging his neighbors to sign up. He called or knocked on the doors of 50 to 60 people to get them to complete the survey, then did it again when it was time for customers to put down a deposit once Mainstream had engineered the route.

“It’s been a long battle, and I’m happy to hear it’s close,” he said.

His family has been using wireless hotspots to get service on Grandma Barnes Road; he and his wife, Kirstie, both telecommute for work.

Lately, he’s been working out of his bedroom instead of his office 100 yards away because one of the hotspot providers started throttling the speed, he said.

“If that had continued and there was no hope for Mainstream … we would have to look at moving either out of the area or to another part of Brown County that had high-speed Internet,” Tiernan said. “So we’re excited because we always thought as this place as a ‘forever’ place, and it can’t be without higher-speed internet.”

Mainstream’s fiber-optic service is at least eight times faster than the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of “broadband,” and it’s being offered with no data cap limitations, Mainstream reported in a press release.

“We consider rural broadband deployment critical to meeting education, public health and safety, business, and residential economic development needs in the county, and commend Mainstream Fiber for this significant broadband infrastructure investment,” said Diana Biddle of the Brown County Commissioners in the press release.

Tiernan and other zone champions contacted owners of existing homes in their neighborhoods as well as owners of vacant land, he said. This expansion makes service available to both types of properties.

“There are a number of people who have purchased land whose intent is to build in the next five years,” Tiernan said. “Basically, the message was, ‘When you do come in and build, are you going to want high-speed internet? If you do, we need your support.”

To get service to their homes, customers pay an average of $450 in installation fees depending on terrain, Mainstream reported in May. After that, the monthly fee for fiber-optic internet is very close to what they pay for the slower internet service they may have now, Tiernan said.

“In talking with people, I think that they saw it as more of an investment. They saw that fiber internet has a way of boosting the value of their property,” Tiernan said.

Mainstream, which was founded in Brown County, also was willing to work out payment plans for people who needed it, he said. “I think that dialog and the ability to talk to someone locally that really took their concerns to heart was critical for a lot of people,” he said.

Tiernan, who works in the tech industry, said when he had called other utility owners to ask about how much it would cost to get service at his home, he received estimates as high as a half-million dollars.

“There are a lot more lucrative areas where they can invest their time,” he said.

Those companies have also spent millions lobbying at the federal level to get internet privacy and net neutrality laws repealed, Tiernan said — “these things that don’t help any clients out.”

That experience led him to start working with the Brown County Broadband Task Force, which has been talking with Mainstream and other companies to expand further into Brown County.

“I really hope Mainstream continues to organically grow like this,” Tiernan said.

“They seemed a lot more committed to making it work. I think they saw it as more as kind of a community-building endeavor than their bottom line.”

A couple other neighborhoods are close to completing the first step for a Mainstream expansion: the interest survey.

The Henderson Ridge subdivision and part of Four Mile Ridge Road are at the top of the list so far, followed by State Road 135 North between Bean Blossom and Three Story Hill Road, the company’s website showed last week. The 135 North neighborhood still needed two more people to complete the survey before an actual service route could be planned.

Tiernan said it can take many months between steps 1 and 2 and before installations can start. He encourages other neighborhood champions to keep working and “stay vigilant.”

“The network extension would not be possible without the support of the zone champions, as well as the residents who committed to the expansion in recent months,” said Mainstream Fiber CEO Bryan Gabriel.

“We are excited to invest in the expansion of our service to these areas.”

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.