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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Since fiber optic deployment requires a large, upfront investment, and TDS’s payback models extend over 10 years, communities come to know the company makes long-term plays. In other words, it’s in it for the long run.
“When we went to Sun Prairie, it was interesting when we worked with the city council,” Butman recounts. “The city council, because they didn’t know us that well, we did this dance for a while, and the irony is they wanted to make sure we’re in it for the long run Well, we in turn want to make sure they were in it for the long run because we’re plopping down significant investments. We’re not going anywhere.”
In essence, TDS is taking a page out of Google’s book when the company launched its Google Fiber Cities program. “We were doing some of this in our existing territories and we said, ‘Why don’t we take advantage of this and market it and grow this?’” Butman acknowledges. “So, we’re not too proud to steal some of their ideas, and we did a lot of neighborhood-by-neighborhood marketing.”
Some communities are very welcoming, while others drag their feet, which is why TDS creates a larger funnel. If one community is lukewarm and another is enthusiastic, the company places it bet on enthusiastic. “We look for communities that will embrace us,” Butman states. “Not only do they want us to be good actors, we want them to be good actors because when we come into these communities, we are dependent upon right of ways and permitting. We’re drilling and at the end of the day, it’s not going to go perfect. We’re going to hit somebody’s sprinkler system, and they are going to call the city and be upset. They just have to realize that they are getting this state-of-the-art network, and we want to make sure they are going to be good business partners, and we’re going to be good business partners back.”
The July 10 explosion in Sun Prairie came toward the end of TDS’s fiber optic deployment, and it delayed the final stage of build out by about one week. Butman remembers the evening well, as a conference bridge was established to check on the status of employees and contractors, and to determine whether the company’s fiber deployment played a role in the explosion.
Rumors circulated to that effect, even after the company was absolved of any wrongdoing for the explosion, which destroyed several properties in the 100 block of West Main Street, claimed the life of Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr, and critically injured firefighter Ryan Welch.
TDS did not have any permit to dig or place underground lines in the area where the explosion occurred, and it had no customers in the immediate area. In that section of town, all of its fiber is on strings hanging in the air, not buried.
Following the explosion, TDS and all other utilities, including Sun Prairie municipal utilities, stopped working for one week. Once cleared of any wrongdoing, TDS resumed completing its network in other parts of the city.
“We wanted to find out whether, in fact, any of our employees may have caused this because there were rumors early on that it was us,” recounts Butman, “and I get why there were rumors because we had so many people in the area.”
According to a criminal complaint, a natural gas main was struck after a locating and marking contractor failed to properly mark the line for a contractor who was working for another communications company.
“That was a real scare to us, so going forward, we’re going to redouble our efforts on making sure that we take extreme precautions,” Butman states. “Think about what that could do to your business model. That would have been like the Tylenol [product tampering] scare in the 1980s.”
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