Installation has begun on Eden Prairie’s first citywide, high-speed fiber internet system. Intrepid Fiber Networks, based in Broomfield, Colorado, has started the two- to three-year project. When complete, the system will serve 25,000 homes and businesses, according to the company.
In a Nov. 7 press release announcing its expansion into Eden Prairie, Intrepid promised “reliable, ultra-fast, and symmetrical multi-gigabit Internet access.”
“We are enthusiastic about the profound positive impact that our fiber will have on Eden Prairie and eagerly anticipate further expansions as we invest in communities across Minnesota and the nation,” said Jack Waters, Intrepid Fiber’s CEO.
Installation is currently underway in the south-central area of the city. Much of the work will begin in the spring, according to Dominic Thompson, Intrepid’s business manager. Once complete, Intrepid will lease its cable to “top-tier” Internet Service Providers (ISPs), although no ISPs for the project have been officially identified, he said.
Intrepid plans to run fiber optic cabling on existing utility poles and underground where utilities are currently buried, Thompson said. The company will run fiber optic cable directly into every home and business, he said.
The company will activate the cabling as it is installed, Thompson said. Residents will be notified when installation comes to their neighborhood by door-knockers and door knob hangers.
Currently, Eden Prairie has no residential fiber optic cable, and only limited business and government-related installations are in place. “Light rail has already installed fiber along its route and there are some small installations in and around the light rail station,” according to Eden Prairie City Engineer Carter Schulze.
Why did Intrepid pick Eden Prairie?
Intrepid has installed fiber in two Minnesota cities – Bloomington and Greater St. Cloud – before picking Eden Prairie. This marks its fifth installation nationwide, including projects in Northglenn and Pueblo, both in Colorado.
“We look nationwide at different criteria,” Thompson said. “Population and existing fiber are two of the main ones. We pick a place and then we talk with the city about what’s required for permitting. So, we did that with Eden Prairie.”
Several companies have made initial contacts with the city about installing fiber optic cabling. “Intrepid is the first one to complete the review and permitting process,” Schulze said.
Intrepid is installing a service often referred to as fiber internet, high-speed fiber, or high-speed broadband, Thompson said.
“The fiber part is the important piece, and that means it’s a glass or plastic tube through which light is passing,” Thompson said. “It will be around for a long time. We call that future-proof. It means that we’re not coming back to dig in five or 10 years. So, we’ll be in the city once, unless there’s a new development.”
Intrepid is installing an open access network. “Which means that we build, own and maintain the fiber and then an ISP (sells it) to the end consumer,” Thompson said. “So, residents of Eden Prairie will likely not know Intrepid’s name, except maybe during construction.”
The benefit of the open access model is increased competition, Thompson said. “It’ll be like when you’re looking to buy a cellphone plan (and) you have four or five choices,” he said. “It’ll be similar with this, so that will decrease the price and improve competition.”
Intrepid will be making connections known in the fiber world as FTTH – Fiber to the Home, Thompson said. That means Intrepid workers will install a router and fiber cable in each city residence and business. The connection will not use any existing coaxial cable, he said.
ISPs will be selling the fiber service to customers, he said. “We’ll be working with different ISPs, but they are the top names in the country,” he added, but declined to name any potential ISPs that might be leasing its fiber internet.
Thompson said monthly prices being charged by ISPs in markets Intrepid has installed fiber typically run $50 for 500 Mbps and $70 for 1 Gbps service. “It’s going to be faster than almost everyone has, and also the price is very good,” he said.
Fiber is making inroads throughout the country, Thompson said. “Almost everyone will have it in the country very soon,” he said. Even more will have access thanks to federal government funding to allow more rural areas access to broadband connectivity.
Tiny but fast
Optical fibers are tiny — about 125 microns in diameter, or slightly larger than a human hair. Fiber cables can include hundreds of these glass tubes, each capable of carrying different information.
Light in a fiber cable moves at about 70% of the speed of light – or about 130,000 miles per second. Because of that, fiber optic connections aren’t bound by the same speed limits found in other technologies, such as cable and a digital subscriber line (DSL). Because it uses light and not electricity to move information, fiber is also less susceptible to power outages.
Cable internet technically has the same speed potential as fiber internet, but cable operators currently limit speeds due to the underlying infrastructure and how they distribute bandwidth across their networks, according to highspeedinternet.com.
Cable internet service providers like Xfinity and Spectrum have hybrid networks that are mostly fiber, but they keep coax cable lines in place for the “last mile” to keep prices down, according to the website.
Cable internet currently is asymmetrical, meaning it can download at high speeds, but upload speeds are slower. Fiber normally has identical upload and download speeds.
Coming to your neighborhood – and what’s next?
Eden Prairie’s Schulze expects more companies like Intrepid to step forward.
“I’m kind of expecting more than just (one fiber company) coming in,” Schulze said. “But it’s kind of like first come first served at this point. And Intrepid seems to be the one that was the most organized and came in with a plan. And, so, they have that approved at this point, and they’re out working installing the fiber.”
Anyone who has driven down a major artery in Eden Prairie recently can see part of the problem the city is facing. Arrays of multi-colored flags identifying the location of utilities – electric, natural gas, cable and more – can be seen along several roadways. And there are no limitations on the number of fiber companies who could ask to bury their cables, Schulze said.
“The bad part is that these things are everywhere and they’re clogging up the right-of-way,” Schulze said. “And it’s becoming kind of an issue to figure out how to even get to where somebody wants to put something in. There’s no space.”
There are also no specific city guidelines governing the spacing of utilities in road right-of-ways, he said.
“Technically, they could go pretty close to each other,” he said. “I think the one that’s going in right now with Intrepid, they put in four separate conduits and they’ll put their fiber line through one or two of those. They’ll leave one or two empty for a spare (known as “dark fiber”). They can technically get a lot of them in those spaces. But eventually that right-of-way is kind of filled and (other companies will) have to either go where an old one was or, in a perfect world, somebody removes something and there’s a new space.”
Rules do limit locating utilities in roadways, Schulze said. “Most of it ends up going under trails and sidewalks where you see flags and paint on sidewalks,” he said.
Intrepid has done a good job so far of minimizing problems, Schulze said. “They’ve been pretty clean about how they’ve done their work,” he said. “They will have to, from time-to-time, cross a road, maybe (make) a small hole in the pavement and then we’re requiring them to patch that or do some sort of restoration that leaves it intact.”
Thompson said Intrepid will repair landscaping damage and minimize service interruptions during installation. “It’s like any roadwork,” he said. “We’re trying to be efficient.”
Intrepid has a detailed explanation of its construction process on its website.
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