Two years after the launch of its fiber-to-home residential broadband internet initiative, Owensboro Municipal Utilities will expand its service area even farther this fall, connecting more people with fast, reliable service.
OMUfibernet is expected to connect its 500th subscriber in just a few weeks’ time, and market penetration in its first Town and Country neighborhood phase has reached almost 30 percent. Contractors working on behalf of the public utility finished installing the backbone distribution network of fiber-optic coil in the Apollo Heights and Southeast areas of Owensboro in August.
Now, says Telecommunications Superintendent Chris Poynter, crews will move northward to begin the process of connecting portions of Owensboro north of Scherm Road and west of South Griffith Avenue into the network.
“We have been very deliberate in how we grow our service area,” Poynter said. “It has to be both cost-effective and fair. What we really did not want to do is cherry-pick desirable demographics. What we said from the very beginning was that we are a municipal utility and we’re all about serving the community, so we’re going to let technology and cost determine how we deploy it.”
So far, portions of the city west of New Hartford Road, south of West Byers Avenue, College Drive and Scherm Road and mostly bounded by U.S. 60 or the Carter-Tamarack roads subdivisions are within a backbone network with access of up to 1-gigabyte-per-second speeds.
Advertising and promotions campaigns have ramped up in those areas where service is available. People are excited about fiber, Poynter said, not only because of access to high-speed technology but because of who is offering it.
“We’re focused on doing this and doing it well,” he said. “OMUfibernet customers can expect concierge-level service because we’re not a big, corporate entity. We provide essentially a utility-type service, and we’re passionate about it.”
Fiber internet differs from direct subscriber line, or DSL, access in that it relies on small strands of glass through which data is transmitted via light emissions. Naturally, optic data can travel much faster — virtually at the speed of light — compared to standard DSL copper wiring capacities. Although cable internet access is considered faster than standard DSL, those fibers must first pass through coax nodes before data can make its way to residential or business customers, impacting speed.
OMU first had access to fiber internet in 1997. It used the faster speeds to support its own needs on the electric grid, but officials quickly realized the potential excess bandwidth could pose to the business community and launched a commercial-only fiber connectivity product not long after their own fiber-optic ring went live.
Since fiber served OMU’s electrical department first and foremost, it remained a part of that side of the business financially until 2013. That’s when the City Utility Commission began to realize that broadband internet access was no longer a luxury but a necessity in the modern workplace. Although Poynter’s telecommunications department still remains an electrical component, it stands alone financially. Growth, therefore, pays for growth, and the residential push that OMU launched in 2016 was and still is paid for partially by $6 million worth of revenue bonds.
“Our growth has been deliberate because of costs,” said OMU spokeswoman Sonya Dixon. “We pay as we go, and we pay to cover costs. We do that because we have to, and we do it so that services don’t denigrate as we grow.”
That’s something customers have taken note of, too. Connie Singer, 60, who has lived with her husband at their Lewis Lane home for not quite a year, was pleasantly surprised to learn that the prior owners had connected it to OMU’s fiber network. Singer said she had internet service with both Comcast and AT&T and wasn’t happy with their perfomance.
But OMU, she said, offered the fastest internet service she’s ever seen, and the utility made installation and troubleshooting a breeze.
“It’s the best thing we’ve ever signed up for,” she said. “The grandkids use it for gaming, and we upgraded so we could have two gaming computers going at the same time.”
OMU download and upload speeds are mirrored, which makes residential internet ideal for gamers, students or those who work at home. Singer said she’s had no problems with the service since it began, and she intends to remain a loyal customer as long as she lives in a neighborhood in which it’s available.
“Our electric, water and internet are all on one bill,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
Commercial services still remain a vital component of OMU’s long-term telecommunications strategy, but as residential internet becomes more widely available, officials there say they anticipate more expansion.
AT&T now offers limited fiber capabilities in Owensboro, too. According to spokeswoman Cathy Lewandowski, work has been underway to bring AT&T Fiber to parts of the Owensboro area since the company announced plans to launch in Evansville and the surrounding market.
“We’ve begun making the service initially available to some homes and small businesses and will share more information about availability in Owensboro, the surrounding Daviess County and the greater Evansville area soon,” she said in a written statement.