The Fiber-to-the-Home Project
What is Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative building?
About two years ago, Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative started building an operational fiber optic network to connect all our electric substations as we move toward making our electric grid more reliable. When our fiber subsidiary, Four States Fiber, won $53 million in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, it provided the opportunity to begin building a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network – the gold standard of communications transmission – over existing electric distribution infrastructure that will take fiber directly into homes and businesses and deliver reliable, high-speed internet services.
What is the timeframe and scope of the buildout?
This 5-year FTTH buildout, encompassing over 5,000 miles of fiber, will ultimately reach 100 percent of our members. The buildout will provide access to broadband benefits for 32,000 rural homes and businesses in the territories, and the surrounding four-states area, served by Southwest Arkansas Electric.
When will construction begin?
Planning has been under way for some time as Southwest Arkansas Electric explored the possibility of delivering high-speed internet to our members. Construction has recently begun on the initial phase of the network build.
Where will the internet service be offered?
The buildout will be completed in phases, and eventually, it will reach all of our members. Phase 1 will begin in communities served by our Nashville area substations and will expand to areas served out of our Lockesburg and Foreman substations. Phase 2 and subsequent phases will be announced as our network design continues.
Paramount to the decision to start in the Nashville area was the fact that the electric cooperative operational fiber ring was complete in that area. That will allow the subsidiary to begin delivering broadband services much sooner since a fiber backbone can be leased from the electric cooperative. Among other considerations, we took into account whether the area was unserved or underserved, population density, total buildout cost, the number of potential subscribers and revenue projections in deciding where to start. All of these factors help determine our buildout plans.
How will I get FTTH services through the co-op?
Southwest Arkansas Electric has created a subsidiary, Four States Fiber, which will offer fiber internet and telephone services to members within the cooperative’s service territory and surrounding four-state area. The subsidiary is a separate company and will be managed separately from the electric cooperative. While Southwest Arkansas Electric will manage its electric grid to provide electricity across our service territory, members will get their broadband services through Four States Fiber. Members will be billed separately for their electric service and their broadband service.
How do I know if I am in the initial service area?
Four States Fiber’s preregistration portal, debuting in late March, allows members to enter their electric account number and home or business address to determine if the household or business is in the service area, and/or when service might be available. The portal will continually be updated as construction progresses and will be accessible through smart phones and other electronic devices.
Will my electric bill increase to pay for the FTTH network?
No. Electric rates will not be raised to subsidize the buildout or deployment.
What is a fiber-optic network?
Fiber-optic systems are made up of tiny strands of glass that carry data using light waves, resulting in much faster internet speeds and better reliability than traditional copper lines. Most internet providers use fiber in their systems but use copper lines for the final connections to the home, resulting in slower speeds. Southwest Arkansas Electric and fellow cooperatives believe FTTH is the best, most sustainable communications choice. With our FTTH service, we offer “symmetrical” speeds, meaning you’ll enjoy the same high speeds whether uploading or downloading.
What makes fiber so special?
A fiber-optic network sends and receives data at the speed of light. In addition to super-fast transmission speeds, a fiber optic network can carry an extremely high amount of data. Fiber is also more reliable than other networks, because it’s less susceptible to interference and damage from lightning and other acts of nature.
What does the term “broadband” mean?
Broadband commonly refers to high-speed internet access that is always on and faster than traditional dial-up access. Broadband fiber-optic networks can deliver voice, data, video and email services over the internet.
The Next Steps – Internet Service
What internet packages will be available?
Four States Fiber will offer a package with a minimum of 100 megabits (Mbps) per second upload and download speeds (symmetrical service). We also will offer a package with a maximum of 1,000 Mbps (1 gigabit) per second upload and download speeds, along with managed Wi-Fi services. Pricing for our services will be available closer to launch.
Why should I wait for fiber service and not sign a contract with another provider?
Don’t get locked into bad internet service by signing a contract with another provider. Four States Fiber internet will give you blazing-fast gigabit speeds for both uploading and downloading, with the same reliable service and support you know and trust from Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative. With Four States Fiber internet, there are no contracts and no sudden pricing increases – just consistent, affordable monthly packages with the speed you need to access opportunities for work from home, remote learning, telemedicine and more.
Can I preregister for the internet service?
Yes. Potential subscribers are encouraged to preregister for services through the pre-registration tool, coming in late April.
Are there data caps with this service?
There are no data caps or bandwidth throttling (intentional slowing or speeding of internet service) with this service.
Will voice and TV services be available immediately?
Four States Fiber will offer voice (VoIP) services in addition to broadband internet service. While TV service will not be offered, video streaming services will work well on our network.
How much will the internet service cost?
We will announce pricing when the preregistration portal is activated this spring.
Will a contract be required?
What is the earliest date that internet services can be installed in my home?
Internet service installations will likely begin in the late summer or fall. We encourage potential subscribers to preregister through the portal as early as possible to get on the installation list.
What is involved in the process of building a fiber-to-the-home network?
Construction of a fiber network is a complex process involving numerous contractors and dependent on a number of variables that include length of the circuit, terrain and soils, weather, and other external factors. Most distribution lines are a mix of overhead and underground construction. Construction is divided into seven phases for an overhead distribution project.
Step 1: Make Ready Engineering – Two-to-Four-Week Process
The project begins with design of the fiber build. Once the design is set, field engineers determine if modifications to any poles are required in order to support the fiber and the steel strand that accompanies it. Poles may need to be moved to make more space, or they may need to be replaced with stronger or taller poles. During the first phase, inspectors will also “ride out” the build, visiting every location throughout the project area and making notations of changes that may need to be made. During make-ready engineering and assessment, we also make sure every member in the territory is included in the build. This phase can take two to four weeks.
Step 2: Make Ready Construction – Four-to-12-Week Process
The timeline for make ready construction can vary widely, typically from one-to-three months. During this phase, crews make the changes necessary to accommodate fiber. Line crews change poles, move transformers from one side of the pole to another, move wires on the pole, add new anchors to the poles, and perform other work to allow the ﬁber to be placed during the fiber construction phase.
Step 3: Fiber Construction – Four-to-Eight-Week Process
Fiber crews will begin the process of adding fiber-optic cable and steel strands to pole lines throughout the community. This process can vary whether electric lines are above or below ground. If underground, asphalt and concrete driveways will be bored under and a pedestal may be placed next to a transformer or junction box to allow for a service drop. Fiber construction can take four to eight weeks in the designated zone.
Step 4: Splicing – Three-to-Six-Week Process
Once both the strand and ﬁber are placed and secured, splicing can begin. Splicing can take three to six weeks for the main lines. In this phase, splicers splice the necessary cables at each end and tap point and mount the splices in enclosures secured to the distribution poles or in pedestals.
Step 5: Service Drop Construction
Service drop construction may be done simultaneously with some of the previously mentioned steps, or it may not be done until after the main line fiber is in place. In this phase, the drop crews extend the ﬁber from the nearest splice point to the structure receiving service and leave coils of ﬁber in each location.
Step 6: Drop Splicing
Drop splicing is the next to last step of the process. The splicer connects the last length of ﬁber at the tap point and mounts a network interface device (NID) at the structure with the ﬁnal splice inside it.
After drop splicing is completed, the network is now ready to be turned over for installation to homes and businesses to start receiving service.
Step 7: Home or Business Installation
Finally, the fiber is connected to a fiber jack inside your home or office, where it’s plugged into the modem we provide! If you pre-register, one of our member relations representatives will contact you to schedule an appointment for an in-home installer to finalize your connection and test the services from your equipment. Once the installation is complete and tested, your service should be ready to go. Welcome to the world of high-speed internet!
Will the construction crews make a mess in my yard?
Fiber construction often involves digging or trenching and our trucks to be in the neighborhoods. Our contractors are trained to minimize any damage, and should any occur, to repair before leaving the job. Feel free to call us at 870-772-2743to share any concerns about the construction process.
Why are you offering broadband service?
Our communities have long suffered from a lack of broadband equality – access to the same speeds and capabilities as those in less rural areas. Broadband availability across our service area will help close the digital divide between those who have access to advanced technology and those who don’t. A few of the many advantages of broadband access are:
- online teaching capabilities allowing our students to learn from home
- healthcare benefits such as telemedicine
- work-from-home interoffice connectivity and videoconferencing capabilities that will help professionals stay in their homes, while being productive
- quality of life improvements through enhanced communications
- economic development and growth in rural areas. Access to high-speed internet can raise home prices and attract businesses to communities.
In addition, by connecting Southwest Arkansas Electric’s substations and offices with fiber, we will create a smart grid with more automation capabilities to better serve our members. Smart grid capabilities – the standard for optimum electric infrastructure – allows our devices to communicate with each other and delivers benefits such as improved power outage response times, better load balancing, more efficient electricity delivery and others.
How will I benefit from fiber internet access?
Our sole reason for offering high-speed internet services is to meet the needs of members like you. You will no longer have to rely on DSL, fixed wireless or satellite internet to stay connected online. You will be able to stream high-definition media smoothly and quickly, have the data capacity to download and upload data such as files, photos and videos at super-fast speeds, and have access to the latest technological advancements and applications. Our FTTH world-class service will be reliable, affordable and backed by your local, trusted co-op.
You will be able to run multiple devices – such as cell phones, computers and laptops – simultaneously in your home or business without decreased download and upload speeds.
Do I have to sign up for phone service to get high-speed internet?
No, you can sign up for the services individually.
How does the phone service work?
Four States Fiber’s phone service uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. Calls you make are processed over the public telephone switched network, which results in a higher quality call than traditional VoIP calls.
Can I keep my phone number?
In the majority of cases, yes. We sign agreements with various carriers to “port” phone numbers to the new service.