Do it yourself fiber

Skip Skinner, the forward-thinking administrator of Wise County, Virginia, suggested do it yourself fiber to me three years ago. I've proposed it to many other groups since then, and everyone thought I was crazy.

So I was gratified to hear from Matt Wenger of Packetfront about a wildly sucessful do it yourself fiber project at the Digital Cities conference last week. A rural community in Sweden got potential broadband customers to dig a trench across their own property and install conduit (cheap plastic pipe) to the rural road, where the fiber was then blown in using compressed gas.

It worked extremely well. The effort was started and led by a single determined community member who observed, correctly, that most rural folks have or have easy access to tractors, plows, and trenching equipment, and know how to use it.

A major cost of installing fiber in rural communities is getting the fiber from the paved road up to the house, which in this Swedish community was as much as 3/4 of a mile from the road. By sharing costs across a large number of users, the cost of getting the fiber installed was greatly reduced, and the primary focus of the effort was centered on just getting the fiber down the main back roads--a much simpler problem than dealing with the logistics of installing duct to every household.

The local credit union also pitched in by agreeing to add the average $600/household cost of duct and parts to the property owner's mortgage, which increased the take rate for fiber by 25% to 40%. The credit union realized that fiber infrastructure increased the property value by several times the cost of the materials, and worked with their customers to develop a simple, streamlined process for providing the funds. A U.S. study last year showed fiber to the home adds $7,000 to $14,000 of value to a home.

The combination of shared investment, self help installation, and new forms of financing minimized the capital risk on this project and got state of the art fiber into a rural community.

So my question today is this: Are the Swedes smarter than the rural residents of the U.S.? Why not do this in your rural community? We are talking about digging shallow holes in the ground and dropping plastic pipe in the hole, then covering the hole up with dirt. I'm pretty sure we can handle that.

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