By TRACI L. WEISENBACH
For the Advertiser
SEBEWAING — Austin, Texas. Chattanooga, Tenn. Kansas City, Kansas. Richmond, Va. Sebewaing, Mich.
What do these towns have in common? They’re some of the first communities in the U.S. to offer fiber gigabit service to residential and business customers.
As for Sebewaing, it recently received word that it’s the first Michigan village to offer residential broadband customers this super-fast speed. It’s being offered through the Sebewaing Light and Water Department.
Now, the town known for its sugar also can proclaim, “Welcome to Gigabit Village.”
“This is wonderful news for Sebewaing,” said Melanie McCoy, Sebewaing Light and Water superintendent.
The village’s Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) project is finishing up its construction phase, and the first customers will be getting connected within the next few weeks. Currently, there are more than 200 customers on the waiting list for installation. McCoy said the goal was to have 400-500 sign up within the first year, so the town has already met half of that goal.
Residential and business customers will be able to purchase internet and phone service. Rates for residential service start at $35 a month for 30-megabit (Mb) download/upload speed and $35 a month for unlimited local/long distance phone (the two bundled as a package will cost $65 a month).
As for gigabit (Gb) service, residents can purchase this speed for $160 a month. Some other towns that offer this service charge $200 or more for this speed. For those who wish to bundle this with phone service, the monthly price is $190.
As people are using increasingly more bandwidth – mainly for video – the need for faster speeds is growing very quickly. In fact, according to Gigafy America, bandwidth use doubles every two years. While not everyone will want gigabit service today, the demand for this speed likely will increase over time, especially as new technical gadgets are continually entering the market
What can be done with a gig? The list of possibilities is…well…as big as a gig. According to some examples from Gigafy America, a patient and doctor can be in a rural health clinic, stream three-dimensional medical imaging over the Web and discuss a unique condition with a specialist in another state. A person in a small town can download a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes. A college student in a tiny Midwest village can converse with classmates around the world while watching live, 3D video of a university lecture.
McCoy said she’s pleased that Sebewaing residents and businesses will have access to gigabit speed, and they’ll have better prices and better service because of the “local” factor. Customers won’t have to deal with a large urban conglomerate for their service. They can simply call their hometown utility service.
McCoy said being Michigan’s “Gigabit Village” hopefully will provide an economic boost to Sebewaing in attracting various types of businesses, including home-based businesses. This is a huge benefit, especially for one of the towns hit hardest by the auto industry’s struggles.
The prices for gigabit service – and other speeds offered in the new FTTP system – are reasonable, McCoy said, because it’s a brand new system with a new design. Having to retrofit an existing system would’ve been more costly. Being a utility also helped keep prices down.
“We’re doing this as a break even venture – we’re not going to be making a lot of money,” McCoy said. “Also, we didn’t have to borrow money for this project. We saved money over a period of time.”
The project is projected to cost about $1 million.
McCoy said another reason the prices are so reasonable is Sebewaing Light and Water was able to get access to a lot of bandwidth at a low cost, thanks to Air Advantage.
The Sebewaing Light and Water Department has offered wireless service for years, but this is an aging system that needs to be upgraded, McCoy said. The current speed offered to customers with this service is about 10 Mb, she noted.
For more information on the FTTP project and gigabit service, call the Sebewaing Light and Water Department at (989) 883-2700. People who get on the installation list by Dec. 31, 2014 will have their installation fee waived – a savings of $125.