Now is the time for communities to invest in broadband infrastructure to improve citizens’ quality of life and promote economic prosperity. When opportunities arise, will your organization be ready? States, municipalities, community organizations, Tribal governments, and community groups must strategize NOW if they intend to get their proposed projects “shovel-ready” for deep, detailed applications and, ultimately, funding.

That’s why NoaNet is hosting these upcoming FREE “Road to Broadband” virtual workshops for communities on Nov. 30 and Dec. 16. There will be practical conversations to learn from communities and organizations that have been there.

Join NoaNet for Broadband 101 if you want to grasp the basics- or stick with the workshop for both afternoons to get a solid understanding of the considerations of taking on a community telecommunications project in this step-by-step virtual workshop.

Speakers will include:
• PUDs, Cities, and Ports providing Broadband Solutions,
• Broadband Strategists,
• Grant Writers,
• The Washington State Broadband Office,
• The Community Economic Revitalization Board,
• Telecom Network Engineers,
• Technology Vendors,
• and more!

Click here to read more about the Workshop and to register! 

COS Service Zones is built to streamline the process of getting a fiber network started and managing the buildout communications. The first step is often a broadband survey, building a comprehensive map of the existing providers, available speeds and the need for better broadband in the community. In the latest release of COS Service Zones, we’ve launched several improvements for the survey portion of the platform.

While there is flexibility to modify and add to the built-in survey questions in COS Service Zones, the standard questions are geared towards asking the most crucial and concise questions. Yet, as with all surveys some people never finish them. The reason might not have anything to do with the survey length, they may have gotten distracted for some reasons or another. In our latest survey release, we split the survey into different steps which will capture survey data throughout. After the customer has searched for their address, next would be their email address, then thereafter we take them through the survey step by step while continuously saving data. This will enable you to later analyze at which step the survey taker drops off. Perhaps it was at the point where proposed services and prices were shown? Can it be an indication that the assortment is not what customers were looking for? Or that the prices are too high?

The other benefit of partially saving the data and requesting the email address early is the follow-up automation we’ve been able to build. COS Service Zones has a template-based email engine built into the platform, it can be used to automate personalized follow-up emails. For the customer that did not complete the survey but did share their email address, the system can now automatically send out an email to that person asking them to complete the incomplete survey, and again emphasize the importance of the data to move forward with the broadband plans. The email will include the link which will take them exactly to the step in the survey where they dropped off previously, they can just complete the last steps instead of starting over. If the person still doesn’t take the survey, another email with a slightly different message will go out after a few additional days. Everything to maximize the number of completed surveys. These emails are also an excellent way to try to figure out why those reluctant to finish the survey feel that way. By simply asking why, they could reply to the system generated email and let you know what issue they had.

Another important set of data collected in the COS Service Zones survey phase is the customer’s current internet speed, by asking them to initiate a speed test. To ensure that the data is as accurate as possible, the survey will first confirm if they are using the connection that they would replace with a new fiber connection. If the answer is NO, then the speed test will not show up at the end of the survey, as that would corrupt the data. Often those who are not using their home connection are at some public place like the library or at work, where they typically have faster speeds than their home service. We’ve also added automation to maximize the number and the accuracy of the speed test results received. For those who took the survey and never completed the speed test from their home connection, an automated reminder email will be sent out. And those who indicated that they were not using their home connection and later never completed a speed test, another email will be sent explaining that once they are using the connection that they would be interested in replacing, they can follow the link in the email that will take them to their mypages, where they can start the speed test. The result of the speed test will automatically be mapped to their submitted survey. This process will also fetch the IP address, which determines the current home connection provider, thus a map of the competitive landscape can be understood.

These are just some of the new features that are now live with the latest system upgrade. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you would like a walkthrough of everything COS Service Zones helps you with in the initial phases of your fiber project and throughout the buildout or expansion!

A small budget, long distances and low population density surely does not sound like the best prerequisites for a fiber network buildout. By working in a structured, but still creative way and with a good dialogue with the local community it is still feasible. It has been proven over the last six years since Kitsap PUD started to work with COS to build demand for and operate their Open Access fiber network.

To understand how this success story began, we must jump back all the way to 2003. As members of NoaNet (Northwest Open Access Network), another customer of COS, Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD) got access to the fiber backbone that was built throughout the rural parts of Washington State. In 2003 KPUD started building a middle mile network, branching off from the NoaNet fiber ring and connected their first community anchor tenants; schools, libraries, navy facilities, but also a number of businesses. Being a water utility and not having the big budgets as some of the electric utilities in Washington State have, it was a slow but steady buildout that generated a small, but positive cash flow. An excellent starting point for any community wishing to initiate a fiber project as not only costs can be lowered to the anchor institutes, but that the revenue from those fiber connections will also stay local.

Over the coming years, the incumbent telecom companies didn’t improve their presence in the county much and not only businesses, but also residents started to ask if KPUD could expand their fiber network to reach them, as some other PUD’s in the state had done. KPUD decided to find a way to determine if there was a big interest for this and that is when they started working with COS Service Zones. Within just a few days from launching the site, the response was overwhelming with over 2000 completed surveys. The lack of high speed and quality broadband in the county was clear.

KPUD is running their network on an Open Access model and is operating it using COS Business Engine. This means they are not themselves providing the retail services but invite private sector providers to do so. Already from the start several Service providers saw the benefit of being able to reach new customers without any investments in infrastructure, even though the numbers were initially small.

So, without a big budget how were they able to expand their networks in these rural areas? The secret recipe is called LUD:s (Local Utility Districts). While the middle mile network is expanded by a mix of cash flow revenue, tax dollars and grants, the last mile connections to the homes are paid by the homeowners, but it is not a one-by-one thing. Instead, in neighborhoods or areas where KPUD has identified a high demand with COS Service Zones the total cost for the buildout is calculated and the cost per household is determined. Residents will decide if they want to participate or not and high participation obviously leads to a lower cost. Residents have the option to pay upfront, but many choose to spread the cost out over time through one of the partnerships KPUD has established with local banks that will allow a long term loan with a fixed interest rate and a lean on the property. Even if these costs can in some less densely populated areas be quite substantial, people are willing to sign up knowing it will not only provide a better internet service, but also increase their property value. Just recently the very last homeowner who didn’t opt-in initially in one of the first LUD’s decided to connect – effectively a 100% take-rate in that neighborhood, even though the last mile connection has to be paid by the homeowner. Another rural COS Open Access customer, neighboring Mason PUD3, is also using a model where customers can pay off their installation over time with a $25 monthly construction adder to the cost of their service for 12 years.

Angela Bennink, Telecom Director at KPUD, explains that the Open Access model is a big proponent of the network and the choice it offers make people more willing to sign up and connect. Subscribers know that the competition between multiple providers will ensure a good quality of service and reasonable prices. And switching between providers is made extremely easy by the self-service broadband Marketplace provided with the COS Business Engine operations platform.

“Our biggest challenge now is keeping up with demand,” says Bennink.

Especially during this Covid-19 pandemic the need for broadband has been extreme. The proximity to Seattle, across the water also makes the population grow at a rapid pace. 100 000 new residents are expected in the coming three years and KPUD is working with developers to make sure they put in conduit for fibers as they build.

“We have slowly and steadily grown and we will add close to 500 new customers this year and as many next year. We have found a model that really works with our prerequisites and the functionality to streamline the capture of interest and the operations of our Open Access network provided by COS System’s platforms has been a part of that success,” says Bennink.

“It’s been an absolute honor to have been part of KPUD’s journey from the first survey responses coming in, to the successful growth they are showing today. They have proved that with a strong localized strategy and perseverance rural fiber is possible,” says Isak Finer, Chief Revenue Manager at COS Systems.

Fiber network deployments can be separated into two distinct phases – Distribution network buildout and customer connections, often referred to as “drops”. COS Business Engine has always automated the activation of the ONT to validate and document the connection between the service location and the installed equipment to guarantee correct service provisioning. With the latest release of COS Business Engine we’ve launched a full workflow solution for managing and documenting customer connections.

Once you’ve got fiber built to the street, connecting a new customer to your network may sound to some like an easy task. “Just send the crew out and get it done!” Well, this is another one of those things in running a fiber network that are easier said than done. If you start to break down all the work of getting a customer installed into smaller tasks, you will quickly realize that it requires an almost overwhelming amount of planning, coordination, information sharing and documentation to avoid problems.

 

A typical workflow could look like this:

1. A customer has signed up and you’ve decided it’s time to connect their home.

2. Drop design. A fiber drop assignment must be made from the connection point in the street to the house. It requires information about where the fiber terminal is, what it looks like at the location, which building and where on that building the fiber should be connected, etc.

3. Staging the drop. As the fiber drop design is complete a person has to access that information to know what equipment has to be prepared for the installation crew as they go out to do the installation. What length of drop cable is to be used? Which type of ONT? What kind of enclosure?

4. Build the drop. A crew will take the prepared material and drive out to the home to connect and bury/hang the drop fiber cable from the fiber terminal in the street to the wall of the house to connect. It’s key that the correct material has been prepared and that fiber drop information is easily accessible.

5. Install the network interface unit. This is where the fiber drop cable terminates at the outer wall of the house.

6. Install the ONT/CPE. This is the final step, before the subscriber can go live with their service. The in-home installation crew will drill through the outer wall and pull a fiber through to the inside of the house and install the ONT where the customer has chosen to put it. It includes the activation and confirmation that the correct ONT is installed at the correct location. If this is not correct, service orders from one customer could be provisioned to the neighbor! Such errors can be incredibly time consuming to resolve since you may have to come into customers’ homes.

7. Configure the service and test the connection port is performing as expected.

 

All these tasks must be coordinated, and every person/crew involved must know for sure that the previous step was successfully completed. Imagine if a crew has an appointment to make the final installations in the customer’s home, then meeting up with the customer who has stayed home from work excited to start using their new service, and then finding out the fiber drop to the house has not yet been completed. That’s a huge waste of time and that subscriber will in a matter of seconds go from excited to extremely disappointed. This might be the worst possible scenario, but lack of control in this rather complex process will be extremely costly.

It’s also extremely valuable to have good documentation of how the work has been performed. Not only to continuously verify that installation crews/subcontractors are doing quality work, but also for future support and maintenance.

 

Deployment portalThis screenshot shows the installer’s view of the installation workflow. The customer and service location information is there and also the status of each and every task in the installation workflow.

 

With the new customer installation workflow in COS Business Engine we’ve solved all of these potential pitfalls. As soon as a new customer location is created, either manually or by an import, but most likely through the integration to our demand aggregation platform COS Service Zones, a complete installation work order is created. This work order includes a set of predefined tasks that can then be assigned to the appropriate installer responsible to execute it. Each person will have a user profile set up in COS Business Engine where they will be able to access all the relevant information about the task to be performed on their own device. An installer will have all their work orders and tasks listed on their overview page as they log into their installer view in COS Business Engine.

Any files, be it drawings, signed contracts or pictures taken in the field, will be available to not only the admin user, but also every installer with tasks to perform in that specific customer connection. With real-time access and updates there is no need to distribute papers and manually confirm work performed using phone or email.

This new functionality is part of the standard set of features delivered with the COS Business Engine and we’re excited to receive feedback from our existing and new customers as they start using it.

Finally, a special shout-out to the great team at WideOpen Networks in Virginia who are using our full product suit to manage everything from initial interest surveys, to pre-signups in fiberhoods with take-rate targets, taking deposits, managing the customer connection workflows described in this blog post, to the Marketplace where subscribers can manage their own service orders on their Open Access network and finally billing. Their vast experience provided invaluable feedback in our development of this new functionality.