DirectCom Lays Fiber-to-the Home in Arbon Valley

Fiber lights

Fiber optic cable connects the world.

Why is fiber optic cable being run to your home in Arbon?
We have been using fiber optics for our backbone network for a number of years—we  were one of the first companies in Idaho to use a digital switch, and helped build the first state-wide all fiber-optic sonnet loop, which ties the entire state of Idaho together into a network that goes back to the national backbone. However, not many telephone companies provide fiber all the way to the home yet—we were the first telephone company in Utah County to do that, so we thought it was time to offer it to our exchange here in Arbon.

Is it an expensive venture? How much does it cost to install fiber optics? Time? Labor?
Today, the price of the fiber optic cable has come to down the point where the cable itself isn’t any more expensive than the traditional copper, and of course at the same time, copper is increasingly expensive, with no hope of ever going down again, the way the world economy is headed. The real expense with fiber is in the electronics. The entire phone switch and head end must be upgraded to support the new fiber network, and on the customer end, the box (we call it a ONT, or optical network terminal) that fits onto the outside of the home, is very  expensive, because it’s a far more sophisticated system than the old copper devices. The great thing about this new ONT though, is that it supports the new technology that people are using more and more in their home, like home networks. Anybody who builds a house now will want to install CAT-5 network cable to each room, so they can network all their computers together, distribute their internet connection to each room, and many security, intercom and advanced entertainment systems all need network cable thesedays. On our ONT, there is a place you can plug your main Ethernet, or CAT-5 cable, right into the fiber-optic network, so you don’t have to use the old phone line or phone jacks. It’s engineered for the future. There is a little more labor involved in actually burying the fiber than there is with copper, which is just ploughed in directly, because fiber-optics must be run in conduit, but the long term benefits are clear and the investment profitable. Also, from what we have seen so far, there is less maintenance required on a fiber network than copper, so over time it will save us money.
What are the advantages of fiber optics? What changes would an average citizen see in their lives because of its use?
The most important factor is bandwidth. The fiber line running to a home from the main cable contains usually about 12 strands of fiber, but those 12 strands could probably carry all the information in Idaho. So, the capacity is huge—we have the ability to provide up to 100MB per second to each home. Fiber optics are the future of communications, and copper will someday max out on the bandwidth people will require. In the future, your telephone company will also be your cable company, and all media will be delivered as internet data. The advantage of this of course is that the possibilities for different content and the boundaries for broadcasting will be unlimited. Every person could someday broadcast their own TV station of our their home—just call up Grandma and say—change the channel to IP address such-and-such, and watch your grandchild blow out her birthday candles.

Fiber optics carry an all-digital signal, and is better suited to today’s digital communication devices. Also, there is no interference from electric lines or magnetic fields like you experience with copper, so the signal is clearer, which will result in a better conversation. There is no resistance in the fiber optic cable like metal lines have, so the signal can travel infinitely, because it’s light, not an electron flow, so we can now serve customers who live far away from the central phone office with products like DSL, which is vital in the rural areas. Fiber optics will open up whole new markets of people who previously were too far to pick up a DSL signal over copper. Ask all the farmers if they would like that. Having fiber to your home is a great modern feature that will increase the functionality and value of my home. Here in this little pocket in the hills, is a show-piece of the future.

How has communications in Arbon Valley changed over the last 100 years?
In our office in Rockland we still have the original little Rockland phone switch on display—the current president, Leonard May, used to sit at that switch as a child, which was housed in his family’s own home, and act as the operator, and manually change plugs around to switch the calls. An alarm would ring each time there was a call, and somebody in the family would have to wake up to connect the caller. He bought the company from his father in 1974, and from 300 local subscribers then, we now serve over 10,000 customers with a range of communications products from VOIP phones to DSL to cable TV.

 How many homes are hooked up to fiber optics in Idaho?
There aren’t any other phone companies in Idaho Falls, Blackfoot, Pocatello, or anywhere down to the Utah border, deploying fiber to the home yet. Direct Communications is leading the way, and we have hooked up several homes from Bear Lake to Rockland to fiber.

How is fiber optics installed?