Since the beginning of the pandemic last year when adults and children were working and learning from home, Sertex Broadband Solutions of Plainfield has been inundated with requests from town and city officials requesting high-level designs and cost analysis studies for high-speed, fiber-optic cable installations.
“They’re all evaluating whether they should build their own network and then hire us to operate that network,” Sertex President and Chief Executive Officer Michael A. Solitro said during a telephone interview.
That’s because families were all trying to use the Internet at the same time and were having trouble connecting to email, Zoom and other video-teleconferencing software programs, as well as streaming movies and online video-gaming sites.
Because entertainment was connected to people’s perception of the Internet, it was considered a luxury, said Solitro, whose facility is located in the Plainfield Industrial Park. “Now it is a necessity. And last year really drove that point home.”
“We’re kind of moving towards a new era in business, communication and entertainment,” Plainville Town Manager Robert Lee said during a telephone interview.
Plainville officials have hired Sertex to install fiber-optic cabling on utility poles in all four corners of the town, to connect municipal buildings: town departments, library, schools, public safety services and wastewater treatment facilities.
“Basically, it’s going to provide a backbone for the possibility of expanding it to all of the homes in town,” Lee said.
Sertex has already installed CAIs in more than 40 other Connecticut communities, including Pomfret, Glastonbury, Tolland, South Windsor, Bristol and Ansonia, Solitro said.
Even though Comcast is already using fiber-optic cable, GoNetspeed is installing it and Frontier plans to establish it, Lee said “they don’t provide service to 100 percent of the people in Plainville.”
If residents vote to have a municipally owned system, he said the town would control pricing, the operation and upgrades, “rather than rely on a private company to do that. And we think that would provide some better operation from our standpoint.”
After conversations with Sertex staff, Lee said, “We also think that it’s an economic development tool. Our businesses could buy it from these other entities, but we think that we can do it at higher speeds and lower costs.”
Currently, he said they’re doing a survey to see if it’s worth pursuing. “Sertex has given us a cost of somewhere around $13 to $14 million to service the entire town. They’ve estimated that if 40 percent of the people connected to this at $90 a month — that would make the numbers work. The survey is intended to see if we can reach anywhere near that 40-percent-or-higher threshold.”
Lee said the town council is expected to hear a presentation from Sertex in December about how a municipally owned system would operate, be funded and paid for. If there is enough interest in the future, he said the project would require a bond and residents would vote on it.
Solitro emphasizes the many benefits of a high-speed, fiber-optic network, which can be installed in the ground or on telephone poles: symmetrical upload and download speeds, unlimited streaming, gaming, conferencing, Internet surfing, consistent signal strength for more devices, lower cost service and operation, as well as ease of working and learning from home and no data caps.
Late last year, Comcast announced in Massachusetts that it’s implementing data caps in certain markets, Solitro said. He predicts that trend will spread to all markets and that the other commercial service providers will follow.
These days, high-speed internet connection is as important as “running water and electricity,” said Dr. Peter Geller, president of the board of directors for Otis Wood Lands Club with 220 homes in Otis and Sandisfield in the Berkshire mountains in western Massachusetts.
After years of research by former past board presidents Steven Grossman and Doug MacMillan and a five-member broadband committee that began in 2017, Geller gave a two-plus-hour Zoom presentation on funding fiber connection with Sertex in March 2020 to the community.
“At that time (because of the pandemic), people understood it because they couldn’t come here reliably and work and have homeschooling for their kids, because of the tenuous Internet connection problems here.”
Prior to installation, Internet connectivity was “spotty,” said Geller during a telephone conversation. Some people could access the Internet via Verizon DSL, satellite company, or by using cell phones as “hotspots.”
Because Otis Wood Lands Club is a private community, it contracted with Sertex in 2020 to construct a fiber broadband network, which would connect them to the Otis network for service. It was completed this summer and already 90 percent of the homes have opted to sign up for service.
Installing broadband was “a wonderful investment,” Geller said. He added the board was told by Realtors two years prior to COVID that the 30-plus houses would not have sold if they did not have high-speed Internet in their community, “because everywhere else around here either has it or is in the process of getting it.”
“Sertex was wonderful to work with,” and saved them money, he said, adding they made “a very difficult process” easy for them. Geller said they took time to go through the plans and educated them about the equipment and what they were doing.
Education makes up about 75 to 80 percent of most community budgets, Solitro said. “That’s a big number, but yet they’re willing to spend $80 million to $100 million to build a physical school that nobody went to last year, nobody was allowed into. And the Internet became the replacement for that, and remote learning, and Zoom. So that’s why I say there’s a shift here. And so now you’ve got to start thinking of this differently. You need to go and be able to look out of the box.”
Solitro said the high-speed, broadband network Sertex installs is “really never going to be dated.” People could start out with one gigabit and change to 10, 40 or 100 gigabits in the future.
“So that’s why there’s no real bandwidth limitations on this fiber cable. It only represents a few one-hundred-thousand dollars’ worth of replacement money. So you can run on what you’re going to put in today for we figure seven to 10 years before what they call a technology refresh.” When an equipment change is needed, he said, “I don’t have to change any of the cable plant or anything outside. I have to change nothing but a few electronic boxes in the head end and at the house.”
Sertex Broadband Solutions (a subsidiary of Sertex) is located in the Plainfield Industrial Park at 22 Center Parkway. For more information, go to www.sertexllc.com or call (860) 317-1006.