Fiber phase one nearing completionEveryone in Lake County will eventually be contacted with permission cards for fiber optic network connection. The project is in its first phase of construction and County Administrator, Matt Huddleston and Lake Connections project manager, Jeff Roiland, want residents to know the cards are on their way.
By: LaReesa Sandretsky, Lake County News Chronicle
Everyone in Lake County will eventually be contacted with permission cards for fiber optic network connection. The project is in its first phase of construction and County Administrator, Matt Huddleston and Lake Connections project manager, Jeff Roiland, want residents to know the cards are on their way.
“If you haven’t been contacted directly yet, you will be,” Huddleston said.
Permission cards grant Lake Connections employees access to residents’ land in order to extend the fiber optic network to individual homes. In most cases, residents’ yards will be subject to digging only if utilities lines are already buried there. In those cases, the fiber optics will be installed underground in the same way. In phase one, however, only aerial installations are being done. Underground work won’t commence until phase two, still a month or two away.
Phase one involves the construction of the main distribution line, including Two Harbors, Silver Bay and the surrounding areas. People living in phase one territory have already gotten permission cards. Because this distribution line is so vital to the project, these residents don’t have to sign a contract for service to get connected. In phase two, when the network extends to more rural areas, residents will be required to sign up for service in order to get the network extended to their homes.
For phase one residents who have already received their permission cards, a signature ensures that they have the option to connect to the fiber optic grid once it’s finished. Residents can opt out, but there’s no guarantee that they will be able to connect later without cost. By that time, grant and loan money for the project may be gone.
Because of the terms of the loan and grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “funding has to be exhausted by 2015,” Roiland said. However, they hope to have the majority of the network completed by 2013.
Most of the current work involves stringing cables along poles and getting legal paperwork in order. Lake Connections has to determine the owner of each pole--usually another utility company or government entity--figure out where cables will connect to the pole and draw up a lease agreement with the pole owner.
They’ve run into some pole ownership issues during this process. Roiland said Frontier Communications is claiming ownership of poles that the fiber optic team was lead to believe were city-owned. These claims are impacting construction on a project that has seen numerous setbacks.
“You can’t just try to delay the projects,” Roiland said. Many other factors have affected the project already.
First, the county had to rigorously pursue the grants, which they finally received in the fall of 2010 after being passed over in at least one grant cycle. Then, the county had negotiation issues with the original company hired to install the network. The county parted ways with that company in early 2011. Funding issues became a problem in February of 2011 when the county was asked to invest $3.5 million of public money into the project. Eventually they opted to do so.
Finally, the pole issue isn’t the first time private providers have fought against the public fiber project. Mediacom sent a 26-page letter of complaint to the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Agriculture, calling the project unviable and saying the county didn’t have authority to run the network without the approval of voters.
According to Huddleston, the OIS dismissed the complaint and at this point he calls the dispute “old news.”
Phase one, which will entail 75 miles of fiber cables, is 85% complete in Two Harbors. Work is going smoothly, despite the wrangling over ownership of the poles, according to Huddleston, and over 60% of residents have returned their permission cards.
Roiland was also pleased to report that “We’ve had no interruptions of any service” during the construction process.