Jan. 14 2015 12:00 AM

Lansing among the first Michigan cities to receive fiber optic internet to the home

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“Dear bringer of the Light(Speed) Gods, I am writing to you from the confines of the desert island (aka: The Westside Neighborhood south of 496) that is my home. I long for the days that I may bask in the Light(Speed) of your glory. Saith the, Oh Light(Speed) Gods... when shall my brethren and I that inhabit this barren wasteland of an island be in your presence, so that we may be released from the wretched curse (aka: Comcast) that has plagued our tiny island for far too long?


Sincerely, Your humble servant.”


This was posted onto Facebook last month by David Lucas of Lansing. He’s watched from the sidelines in 2014 as thousands of residential homes around Lansing were among the first to get fiber optic Internet piped to their homes touting speeds of 1 gigabit per second. That’s downloading a Blu-ray movie in under three minutes. That’s online gaming without interruption. It’s live television that streams like a dream.


These speeds of Internet are common in government, technology sectors and even higher education. But it’s been slow to arrive on the residential level due to the cost of laying the lines house by house.


Internet startup LightSpeed is the first local company to offer fiber optic Internet to the home.lighspeed1.jpg


“What we’re doing is we’re proving it can be done,” said Jason Schreiber, CEO of LightSpeed.


ACD.net has plans to roll out service later this year, according to CEO Kevin Schoen. Experts agree, competition will continue to grow and nibble away at the customer base of giants AT&T and Comcast.


Lucas is among a long list of people clamoring for Internet at the speed of light. Comcast and AT&T are not offering fiber optic Internet in Michigan and don’t have plans to in the near future. The typical household might have 6 to 30 megabits per second with cable or DSL lines. (Go to Speedtest.net and test your actual download and upload speeds. WARNING: You may be a sad panda afterward.)


“They’re excited because they know what they can do with it,” said Schreiber. “The casual Internet user doesn’t need more bandwidth if the applications they use don’t need more speed. But the early adopters, the techies, the technophiles, the Liquid Web employees, they know what they can do with it. They’re crazy for it.”


Lucas, 30, considers himself a “techie.” He works in IT providing Windows server support. He said he’s also repaired computers most of his life.


“We are no longer in the dialup days, where it would take several minutes/hours to download a file,” he said. “ In today's digital world speed is key. The faster you are able to transfer data, the less time is wasted waiting. If you aren't able to keep up with the competition, you will slowly lose your customers to someone else that is able to provide the service to them. For me, all of these are major reasons to change services.”lightspeed_2.jpg


LightSpeed has nearly 10,000 requests for service after beta testing in Schreiber's East Lansing neighborhood, Glencairn, this summer and installing lines on Lansing’s east side. It is installing lines on the west side of Lansing and will start connecting homes this week.


“We’ve got a supply side problem, not a demand side problem,” Schreiber said. “Supplying the customers is what’s kept me up at night, not finding the customers.”


The response to the service is just proof that “people are starved for access,” said ACD. net’s Schoen.

FORWARD AND FAST

The LightSpeed Facebook page is brimming with comments from people who are downright pleading for the service to come to their neighborhood or absolutely gushing and giddy when the switch gets turned on.


“Are you in Holt? … Meridian Township?... Detroit?... Grand Rapids?” “I assume you are the second coming of Jesus Christ.”


“All I want for Christmas is Lightspeed installed in my house.”


“My daughter just came back from Kansas City, where they had Google Fiber Internet (and TV). Thank you LightSpeed for holding out hope for a treatment for my ‘speed envy.’” The Internet works in only one direction and speed — forward and fast.


“Access speeds have been increasing continuously,” said Johannes Bauer, chairman of the Michigan State University Department of Media and Information. “We all want faster access now.”


Many agree the entertainment industry — Internet video services like Netflix and Hulu, as well as online gaming — has pushed the market to demand faster speeds to improve the streaming quality and dependability of the viewing experience. Dish Network announced recently it is creating Sling TV, a web-based television service offering ESPN and other networks for as low as $20 a month. Services like these increase the demand for higher speed Internet.lightspeed4.jpg


More access to high-speed Internet is of national importance, evidenced by President Barack Obama's a speech about it in Iowa this week.


The Internet is often piped through copper lines on coaxial cable lines from cable companies or copper lines through phone connections like DSL though telephone companies. Those mediums have gotten faster and they can achieve speeds up to 100 megabits per second (a gigabit is 1000 megabits).


“DSL, digital subscriber line access, is a telephone line on steroids,” said Bauer. “That technology, since it goes to an old copper network, has limitations in terms of speeds you can achieve. The higher the speed one wants to achieve on that old network, the shorter the distance there is to deliver it. You cannot get high speeds over miles and miles.”


Bauer said if the DSL network were up graded, you could achieve up to 50 megabits of extra speed.


“Fiber can offer gigabit access, but at a higher cost,” he said.


“The next is cable,” he said. “It has a big advantage over telephone because it was built for higher bandwidth. … DOCSIS technology can deliver 100 (megabits) per second. It runs on a traditional cable TV network. It does the same to the cable network that DSL does to a copper network. It puts it on steroids.”


Fiber technology offers information streamed over a glass thread that transmits data infinitely faster than copper. But it’s new infrastructure that has to be laid, mile by mile across the U.S. to encircle cities and then extended home by home.


“Deploying fiber … the most expensive part is getting the network rolled out to the customer,” said Bauer, who estimated that engineering is 65 percent to 85 percent of the cost. “Once that’s in place, the cost of running the network is fairly cheap.”


Upgrading a nationwide network of copper to fiber optic may take decades. Bauer estimates up to 20 years.


But small Internet companies like LightSpeed can and are filling the void in pockets around the country. San Francisco company Monkeybrains just finished an Indiegogo campaign to bring gigabit Internet to San Francisco residents. And a company in Minneapolis, US Internet, is rolling out 10-gigabit per second Internet speeds, possibly the fastest service available today.


LightSpeed is offering its gigabit service for $50 a month. Comcast charges $89.99 for 105 megabits per second — a tenth of the speed at twice the price.


“When you have a 1-gig connection at your office and at your home, technology is no longer remote, it’s all local,” said Schreiber.

FIBER OPTICS HOSTAGE IN NET NEUTRALITY WAR

Fiber optics and net neutrality collided this past summer when AT&T held high-speed Internet hostage. The telecommunications giant said it would hold back plans to install fiber optics to the home to 10 cities it had intended to deploy as a protest to the Federal Communications Commission for considering regulating the Internet like a utility in order to ensure open access.


“That was a strategic move on their part,” said Bauer, an expert on net neutrality issues. “There is this decade-long discussion, from a legal and regulatory perspective, on how to deal with broadband service. The companies who need to invest don’t necessarily like to be regulated. Since the 1970s and ‘80s, telephone companies and cable worked to be as lightly regulated as possible.lightspeed3.jpg


“What kind of threat do they have? If you regulate us heavily we won’t invest. That was AT&T’s reaction. If you are considering moving us back to common carriage, we won’t do fiberoptic Internet. In the long run they cannot afford to not invest. There’s too much competition. There are 1,600 companies that provide fiber across the country. Most communities are dissatisfied with the speed with which higher speeds are coming to their neighborhoods.”


Net neutrality is the effort to keep the Internet openly accessible to everyone: users and developers and companies. Net neutrality regulations could stop an Internet company from preventing access to content like certain browsers or websites. It would end situations like when Comcast deliberately slowed the broadband speeds to force Netflix to pay for access to the Internet so its subscribers could have uninterrupted service.


Schreiber added, “The idea that the Internet is a liberator needs to be maintained. Who’s going to be the next kid creating a Yahoo!? These stories will be over without net neutrality.”

PUTTING LANSING ON THE MAP

What does fiber optics to the home mean for the Lansing area? How does it distinguish us?


Lansing’s growing tech industry needs the expanded access and speeds.


The big companies are “not paying attention to Michigan,” Schreiber said “Lansing is such a technological hub. A lot of companies don’t get the attention they deserve. Liquid Web is an enormous company. A lot of people don’t know who they are other than their billboards. TechSmith is an enormously successful company. There are lots of niche entrepreneurial endeavors.”


LightSpeed itself is an example of that entrepreneurship. Schreiber, 41, founded the company in 2013. It’s one of a string of companies he’s started up over the last decade. In 1995 he founded Control Room Technologies, a web-based application company. He founded Arialink Telecom in 2003 and sold it in 2012. Besides LightSpeed, he is invested in several other tech companies and ventures including Lansing Area Biotech Incubator, Spectrum Broadband and Great State Angels investment fund.


Schreiber said the emergence of fiber optics to the home in the Lansing shows Michigan innovation.


“If you look at downtown Detroit, there’s a renaissance going on,” Schreiber said. “It’s happening from within. We’re doing it ourselves. Pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps.”


Schoen agrees.


“Hard times kind of brought people together,” Schoen said. “It also breeds innovation.”


Patrick Dickson is a professor of educational technology at MSU. He got LightSpeed fiber optic Internet this summer as a beta test household.


Dickson sees the benefits to the Lansing area beyond entertainment, gaming or even the tech industry.


“MSU is building the FRIB, the biggest collider in the world," he said. "They’re bringing 100 to 200 nuclear scientists to the area. They are moving huge datasets. If they can do it from home, that’s a huge intellectual advantage to them.”


“We’ve got major insurance companies in the Lansing area,” Dickson said. “Any time you have workers drumming their thumbs waiting for an upload or download, that’s wasted time.”


Dickson said fiber optic Internet at home helps him teach online courses.


“To be able to have crystal clear, lightning fast connections and extending that to our homes is huge.”


In fact he said some of his colleagues were envious.


“As soon as the word went out that I got this, they said how in the hell did you get that?” he said.


High speeds and open access create endless possibilities, Schreiber said.


“The creator of Google went to East Lansing High School, that’s the same school my kids are going to go through,” he said. “He lit a fire in early life. He was uninhibited in his early creativity and ambitions. This (fiber optics to the home) isn’t just playing with the Internet and technology, this is access to the world’s knowledge. ...


"I can’t wait to see what someone is going to do on our network. They’re going to build a multimillion company or technology.”

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS

Fiber optic Internet expansion also means jobs for the Greater Lansing area.


Schreiber said he has 35 employees and is continuing to grow.


“If you’re a fiber optics splicer and can install splice capsules and do technical work, you could walk in and start working today,” he said. “We need that skill. That’s our number one demand and skill right now.”


And he’ll need more soon because he’s expanding to the Southfield area.


Schoen said his company is growing as well. He hired 25 people last year and will need to hire up to 30 more this year.


“We need CAD work, permitting work with municipalities, surveying,” he said. “Also construction workers doing installation of cable, bucket trucks, fiber splicing.”


ACD.net recently won a federal stimulus award to help expand Internet to rural areas. It will be working this year to create a fiber optic Internet loop around Hillsdale and then extend high-speed Internet on the residential level.


“We’re building and maintaining that network,” Schoen said. “That gives us a good chunk of the background infrastructure to build out the urban area.”

THE FUTURE

Last week the annual Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas was held. It’s the location where the newest gadgets are revealed.


“There’s 20,000 new things being shown,” said Dickson. “But there’s an interesting shift.”


He said he read an article in The New York Times about this shift.


“It’s a fundamentally important idea,” he said. “Up until now the CES was about gadgets. But what has happened is the smartphone now has the camera, audio recorder, browser, word processor. This (writer) could sense a shift from individual gadgets to applications and other things that work with the smartphone that works in their pocket. Much of the future is around brilliant applications.”


And that’s going to require faster speeds.


Dickson said we need to have the same commitment to building efficient and fast Internet as we do highways and roads.


“We don’t have the will we had when we built the interstate highway,” he said. “I don’t see any way forward other than to encourage these pockets and then push for others to do the same.”



What does that mean?


Broadband: Commonly
refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than
the traditional dial-up access. Broadband includes several high-speed
transmission technologies such as digital subscriber line (DSL), cable
modem, fiber and wireless.


Dialup: Stone age Internet access using a telephone line.


DSL: Digital
Subscriber Line. The generic name for digital telephone lines — rather
than copper lines — that carry data at high speeds.


The cloud: In
cloud computing, the word cloud (also phrased as "the cloud") is used
as a metaphor for "the Internet," so the phrase cloud computing means "a
type of Internetbased computing," where different services — such as
servers, storage and applications —are delivered to an organization's
computers and devices through the Internet.


Cable Broadband: Broadband
using the same optic fibre technology as cable TV. It provides good
service but is only available in areas that have cable service in the
area.


Fiber Optic Broadband: Broadband
Internet connection using fiber optic cables to transfer data. It is
typically faster than data transferred via a telephone modem or dialup
connection.


Gigabyte: 1,000 megabytes


MB/Megabyte: A
megabyte is a unit for measuring the amount of storage space digital
information will take up. It is the equivalent of 1 million bytes and
roughly equates to the same amount of information held in a medium-sized
novel.


Mb/s/Mbps: This
is a different unit of storage to megabytes, and instead means the
number of megabits transferred per second and relates to the speed of
your Internet connection.


Net neutrality: The
concept that Internet service providers should provide
nondiscriminatory access to Internet content, platforms, etc., and
should not manipulate the transfer of data regardless of its source or
destination Streaming: Watching or listening to digital audio or video
without storing it on your computer.


Source: Federal Communications Commission, Webopedia