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TDS: Success in Sun Prairie points to broader deployment

Using the city of Sun Prairie as a test case for its new broadband deployment model, TDS Telecom is in the process of preparing for the construction of high-speed fiber optic networks in several more Dane County communities, with even more possibilities down the road.

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Using the city of Sun Prairie as a test case for its new broadband deployment model, TDS Telecom is in the process of preparing for the construction of high-speed fiber optic networks in several more Dane County communities, with even more possibilities down the road.

TDS President Jim Butman called the Sun Prairie project, which was delayed one week by the July 10 explosion that rocked part of that city, the springboard for other local fiber optic projects. These projects will bring up to 1 gigabit of broadband service to provide internet, TV, and phone service in one package.

“It’s really a strategy for us to pivot into what we see as a great opportunity,” Butman explains. “As you can imagine, it’s very capital intensive, but that’s something we’re not afraid of. That’s the business we’re in.”

Jim Butman, TDS president

TDS, the Madison-based subsidiary of Telephone and Data Systems, invested about $25 million to lay Sun Prairie’s fiber optic network, which has to go under “driveways, sidewalks, and everything,” Butman notes. The results give TDS confidence in its new model, which includes a pre-sale commitment of $25 from residential customers to give them some skin in the game. Business customers typically agree to a multiyear contract, but they have a dedicated fiber optic connection.

To gauge the level of community interest, TDS has a certain sales threshold for this early sign-up process, and if customers remain interested and fulfill their order, the $25 is discounted from their initial bill once service begins. If they later on decide they don’t want the service, their agreement with residents stipulates that TDS keeps the $25.

“Sun Prairie was kind of our beta test to say, ‘Can we really make this work and how will the reception be in the community?’” Butman says. “So, that went so well, we are just delighted. The community there has been supportive, as well as the city and the mayor, and that’s important in these projects.”

In Sun Prairie, Charter is the other primary provider of high-speed internet services, although lower speeds are available from Frontier Communications. Neil Stechschulte, director of economic development for the city of Sun Prairie, says having competing providers is a tremendous asset for residents and businesses. “It’s almost a requirement for communities to be competitive in economic development,” he states. “Without it, it’s very difficult to attract companies and residents who need that level of service.”

Fiber sizzles

In Butman’s words, fiber optic service and the higher broadband speeds that come with it “has sizzle,” in part because of what it means for economic development in any community. A similar early sign-up process has taken place in McFarland, Oregon, Windsor, DeForest, and Cottage Grove, and TDS now is in the process of deploying these networks. “Those communities are performing much like Sun Prairie,” Butman states. “So, we’re delighted that the communities are supporting us.”

Sam Blahnik, community development director in DeForest, has expressed his village’s support for the new fiber optic network to businesses, business parks, and residential developments, noting how its business community needs advanced broadband internet connectivity to expand technology services.

In addition to homes and businesses who have another provider to choose from, beneficiaries include telecommuters, those who need telemedicine services, students taking courses online, gamers, and those who increasingly rely on their computing devices for movies and other entertainment.

“We’ll be launching the service in those five communities starting around April or May,” Butman says. “We’ve got a lot of pent-up demand.”

Another 15 to 20 Wisconsin communities are under consideration to become part of TDS’s high-speed network, which now has 1.2 million connections, but the company plans to whittle that list down to about 10 before starting construction in 2019. Why communities outside of Madison? For one, most are fast growing, but they also are growing in terms of families with households — the prototypical broadband customer, at least for TDS.

“What we do here is create a pretty big funnel for opportunities, and that funnel then gets paired down based upon some very important criteria,” Butman explains. “Household growth and household formation is important because households buy our products. Apartments do but not the same way. They usually buy a skinny bundle, or they buy just internet and no phone service. Households with families buy our products, so we like bedroom communities. They work out better because there are a lot of residential subdivisions, and if you look at what’s going on in Greater Madison, the demographic is good.”

They don’t have to be rich, he adds. “That’s not what we look at, we just want a good household that will pay its bills. Let’s be fair, right? So, we look at a reasonable household income demographic, and we look at growth.”

(Continued)

Old to new | New to old
Nov 27, 2018 02:31 pm
 Posted by  mark

Not to throw cold water on this, kudos to TDS for their deployment! What I do find unfortunate is that they, along with virtually every other telco, continue to pave over existing deployments. While that's great for those dense areas, it still leaves vast areas of Dane County underserved for high speed internet. I understand the expense of serving less dense areas, but at some point we need to find a solution that will help everyone!

Nov 29, 2018 11:41 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

TDS is also making huge investments in rural areas as well. Often the only way to make these investments in rural areas work financially is by utilizing state and national broadband expansion programs like A-CAM. Learn more here: https://tdstelecom.com/networkupgrades.html

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