August 14, 2018—Building over 3,000 miles of a fiber network takes time. You could say it took 80 years to build that much electric line and make it as reliable as it is. Through the use of numerous contractors, we are building the fiber network much faster, likely within four years, yet with the same attention to detail and reliability.
Electric cooperative members are used to seeing the electric infrastructure; substations, poles, wires, transformers, meter pedestals and meters. The fiber construction is introducing new infrastructure attached to, or near, the electric equipment.
Similar to a substation, fiber construction starts with a headend building, where the fiber source initiates. We currently have two headend buildings that connect to form a loop and help to ensure reliable service.
Extending from the headend, you will see the fiber line, hanging just below the electric line, termination splice points, splitter cabinets, terminal pedestals and fiber markers.
These pole-mounted splitter cabinets act as a source of fiber and are strategically located to serve the connected members in the area. As an example, one electric circuit may have as many as three splitter cabinets serving 100 homes.
In subdivisions, you may see terminal pedestals on the ground. Typically smaller than an electric transformer box, these pedestals are the connection point for the homes or businesses within that subdivision.
When you see overhead electric line, you may notice the fiber line looks different, almost as if it is tangled. This is planned construction, leaving extra fiber, or slack, to allow for future needs.
Glancing at the top of some poles, you may notice these, cylinder-shaped devices. These are termination splice points and allow Cooperative personnel access to fiber to serve our electric equipment as well as individual homes and businesses.
Because some of the fiber infrastructure is underground, just as electric lines may be, you might see orange fiber markers in area ditches to mark the location of the underground. Please do not use these markers as a personal guide on where underground utilities are. It is always much more safe, and far less expensive, to call Iowa One Call anytime you plan to dig on your property. Call before you dig, it’s the law--800-292-8989, or 811.
Watch for a future blog about the equipment needed at your home or business to bring the fiber directly to you.
The Make-Ready Step
July 6, 2018--We are always pleased when members ask “why”. It tells us you are engaged in our efforts. Recently we were asked, “Why did you install a new, taller pole on our property?”. The answer was to accommodate the new fiber line and still provide sufficient clearance from the ground.
With over 1,000 miles of fiber now installed, we have found that the process we established at the beginning of the project is still working well. The design of our electric system the past 83 years didn’t assume we would need to add a communications cable to every single pole. We hired an engineering consulting firm, Pulse Broadband, to review our system, including every road, driveway and field crossing, to ensure we can still maintain adequate ground clearance once the fiber cable is installed. The firm identifies issues and then our linemen complete “make-ready” work to ensure the pole will allow the fiber cable to be safely attached.
Another question often asked is "Why did you trim/cut my trees?". The cooperative is always working to keep trees from growing into power lines in an effort to reduce tree related power outages. The addition of the fiber line, below the electric line, requires additional trimming for clearance and access to the line. We love trees as much as our members do. They are part of what makes eastern Iowa so beautiful. However, trees and power lines don't mix and if they bring electric and fiber lines down during an ice or wind storm, it takes much longer to free the line and restore services.
Construction and maintenance of our system is at the core of our efforts to remain one of the most reliable utilities in the state.
VoIP Telephone Service Option
June 7, 2018--Along with high speed internet service, members can also enjoy unlimited long distance telephone service. Voice over the Internet (Protocol), or VoIP service may be a foreign term to some, but it simply means your telephone service can be supplied through your broadband internet connection instead of an analog telephone line. Most members will be able to retain their currenet telephone number and their current telephone(s). The service includes a free, 8-hour battery back-up to ensure continued accessibility during a power outage.
Residential VoIP service is only $34.95 per month when bundled with your MVlink internet service (cost is $49.95 if not bundled). You will receive all of the following features:
- Unlimited local calls
- Unlimited long distance calls within the contiguous United States
- Voicemail to Email
- Call Waiting
- Caller ID
- Call Forwarding
For those members needing dedicated fax lines, and additional line can be added for $14.95 per month. Businessed needing multiple extensions or services can contact the office for a customized VoIP solution.
Go digitial and give VoIP a try!
March 20, 2018---Now that several members have experienced a few months of MVlink service, we thought it would be interesting to reach out to them for comments on their experiences. Here is what we learned:
Matthew, Anamosa says “It’s superfast, we’re so happy. We have now moved on to having more of a smart home with WiFi enabled light switches, smoke alarms and other electronics. We’re also looking at an internet-based TV. We wouldn’t have been able to do any of this with our prior service.”
Affordable Heating & Cooling, Anamosa
Abby says, “It’s made my life here 20 million times better! One of my jobs used to take 5 minutes to load and now I can do it in 3 seconds.
Allie said she remembers the first day she was able to use MVlink. She turned to her coworkers and said, “Wow, is this (speed) how it’s always going to be?”
Patricia Bauer, Holy Cross, commented that waiting for MVlink to reach their home was “the longest year of their life”. They utilized a satellite service prior to MVlink and are “over-the-moon” thrilled with the quality of MVlink. Patricia also stated, “We had the nicest group of contractors, very polite, respected our property, and even came back just to visit on their free time. And our son is now better able to work from home. We are very pleased!”
Chad Rubner, Anamosa, told us he uploaded 120 pictures to WalMart and it took about 2 minutes. It would have taken an hour with his previous provider because their speeds were worthless. “I give praise to MVlink whenever I can because we have not had a better provider since we’ve lived in this area”, says Chad.
The Year in Review
January 8, 2018---Progress continues with our Smart Grid build out and we are pleased with, and appreciative of, the interest from our membership for a high-speed fiber internet option.
The design of the network is following our electric grid as we work along electric lines (feeders) extending from individual substations. As explained in previous blogs, our four-step process includes design of the system, make ready labor, mainline construction, fiber drops and ultimately the home or business installation. We are currently working in 14 different substation areas covering a large portion of our service area from Stone City to Hopkinton to Sherrill. Individual feeders are in different phases of the process as we utilize over 70 contractors, with an additional firm joining us on March 1. We have also hired several new employees, working strictly in the fiber side of our business.
A 2017 highlight was the construction of two head-end facilities, one in Dubuque County and one in Jones County. A head-end is a master facility with hardware and software that receives, processes and distributes data signals. The Jones County head-end facilitates a fiber loop, significantly enhancing service reliability.
Another milestone was the launch of VoIP telephone service. VoIP, Voice over Internet Protocol, allows use of the broadband internet connection to make and receive telephone calls. With the ability to also have a fax line, this has proven a valuable resource for the members who work from home.
Statistics as of December 31st:
- 3,468 members expressed interest at mvlink.coop
- 1,464 members signed up to take service (within the areas ready for service)
- 689 members are connected and receiving service
- 542 miles of mainline fiber is constructed
- 498 miles are ready for drops and home installs
Connected members are now experiencing up to 1 gigabyte of speed, and enjoying newfound freedom for fast file uploads and downloads and uninterrupted streaming.
Overall, we are happy to see this level of progress, while at the same time recognizing many members are anxiously awaiting their connection. We have no intentions of slowing down and simply ask for your patience as we build a robust and reliable system to meet your internet needs well into the future.
September 1, 2017- MVEC’s Board of Directors voted to move forward with the Smart Grid project in April, 2016 and MVlink was officially launched in August 2016. This past year has been very exciting and busy! In a manner similar to how the Cooperative stepped up 82 years ago to meet the electric needs of our membership it is stepping up today to meet the high speed internet needs of our members. MVlink’s fiber communication network will also greatly increase the amount of data we are able to collect and monitor on the electric distribution system, allowing us to continue providing affordable and reliable power for many years to come.
Design efforts began in the summer of 2016 and construction activity to build out the fiber network officially began on November 4, 2016. There has been a learning curve and lots of training opportunities as we moved into the communications business. Several of our electric employees transitioned to the fiber team and others with experience in the communications field have joined the Cooperative. We currently have 14 Cooperative employees focused on the fiber project, along with approximately 75 contracted employees. The first internet connection was completed on February 23, 2017 and the first voice over internet phone connection was completed on June 8, 2017.
On the electrical side we are currently able to collect smart grid data from our substation equipment and meters, but have no means of communicating with the equipment in between. The fiber network solves that communications problem and allows us to gather data from all areas of our electrical system.
This data will be used to operate the system during outages, help direct maintenance activities, and help us to monitor and regulate the system as more and more distributed generation is connected to the grid in the coming years.
We have completed 360 miles of mainline construction in 16 service areas. 902 members have signed up to take service in these areas. Service drops have been installed at 380 locations and we have just over 305 members connected. Additionally, five of our substations are now connected with fiber and transferring data back to the office much faster, and more reliably. We have accomplished and learned a lot since November 4th of last year and are off to a good start. We are currently working with our contractors to shorten the cycle on getting a mainline area completed and service drops installed so we are able to hook up our excited members at a faster pace.
This map gives you an idea of where we are working throughout our service territory. Phase 1 of our project was in Dubuque County and we are actively installing drops and connecting members to MVlink in the blue shaded areas. The areas shown in yellow represents areas where mainline construction is currently taking place and the purple is for areas where design is currently in progress. Phase 2 of the project began in June in the Anamosa area and we are currently projecting that our first connected member in Jones County will occur in mid-September. The remaining areas of the system will be completed in phases 3 and 4 of the project over the next couple of years.
MVlink internet speeds are significantly faster than what competitors are providing across the majority of our service territory and range from 50 Mbps to 1 Gbps with pricing beginning at $59.95. We have had over 20% of our sign ups take the 100 Mbps package. MVlink can also meet all your wifi needs for an additional $4.95 per month. If you elect to take the wifi service we will provide, install, and configure a wireless router for you and also help connect your devices to make sure you are up and running when we leave. If you should ever have any problems with the MVlink provided wireless router we will also assist with troubleshooting the issues when they occur. To date over 70% of the activated members have elected to take the wifi service. In addition to the internet services, VoIP telephone service can be added to any package for $34.95 per month. We also have business packages available.
We have been very pleased with the interest our members have shown in the project. We are currently signing up members in 15 service areas and we have seen over 30 and 40 percent of our members sign up in several of these service areas. Our MVlink website shows almost 2,800 members have indicated they are interested in signing up for MVlink internet and phone services. Showing your interest on the webpage ensures you will be one of the first members contacted when we start construction in your area and you can officially sign up and begin the process of having a service drop installed. You can let us know you are interested by signing up on this site, where you can also track the progress of our project and learn more about the data and voice packages we offer.
We have made a significant amount of progress since last November. This has been a Cooperative wide effort and has required a significant amount of additional work from many employees to get the project up and running. The interest we have already seen confirms that we are not only meeting the needs of our members today but we will also meet their needs in the future by offering unprecedented internet speeds at very affordable prices.
This picture shows a speed test from one of our very satisfied gigabit families and proves that we are offering internet speeds typically only available in urban areas. It is wonderful to hear members say things like “We have been waiting 12 years for internet service in this area” or “I can finally work from home and not worry about my internet dropping off mid email” or “I’ve been paying hundreds of dollars a month in cellular data charges, this is going to save us tons of money”.