FTS re­sumes progress on county fiber net­work

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By DO­RIAN MITCHELL dmitchell@thekent­coun­tynews.com

— After a hia­tus, work has re­sumed on the on­go­ing broad­band fiber-op­tic net­work be­ing built through­out Kent County.

FTS Fiber of Monk­ton cur­rently is build­ing the 110-mile net­work through­out the county, while ThinkBig Net­works is pro­vid­ing the in­ter­net ser­vice.

Con­sist­ing of six rings, the net­work will be at­tached to 54 an­chor in­sti­tu­tions, such as county of­fices, schools and li­brary branches, with 18 strands go­ing out into Kent County. Flow­ing through the rings will be 1 gi­ga­bit of broad­band in­ter­net.

Dur­ing a Kent County Com­mis­sion­ers’ meet­ing Sept. 26, res­i­dents said they have not seen any work re­cently be­ing done on the net­work. They said there are ru­mors that FTS is bank­rupt and that em­ploy­ees are be­ing asked to re­turn com­pany equip­ment.

In an email Fri­day, Scott Boone, Kent County’s di­rec- tor of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, said he spoke with FTS rep­re­sen­ta­tives that day. He said the com­pany re­sumed work on the net­work.

On Mon­day, FTS posted on Face­book that they were “hard at work” in­stalling fi- ber at the Tolch­ester Waste­water Treat­ment Plant.

“Next up — The Wa­ter Tower in Edesvile!!” the post states.

Speak­ing at the com­mis­sion­ers’ meet­ing Tues­day, Boone said the com­pany plans to be­gin in­stalling fiber in Rock Hall this week.

Com­mis­sioner Ron Fithian, who also serves as Rock Hall’s town man­ager, said he re­cently met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives to go over where the town’s wa­ter and sewer lines are lo­cated.

After Rock Hall, the re­main­ing seg­ments will be Quaker Neck Road, out­side of Chestertown, and down­town Chestertown it­self. Boone said that 104 out the 110 miles of fiber has been in­stalled.

“So we’re mov­ing. We ex­pect to see more an­chor sites con­nected as the weeks progress,” he said.

Boone said FTS is work­ing on how to in­stall fiber un­der­ground with­out chang­ing any of the down­town’s his­toric in­fra­struc­ture or caus­ing traf­fic de­lays. He said it also is talk­ing with other com­pa­nies re­gard­ing tele­phone pole agree­ments in town.

“We want to do ev­ery­thing we can to not dis­turb the his­toric na­ture of down­town Chestertown,” Boone said. “So after these two seg­ments are fin­ished, we’ll be back to fo­cus on Chestertown 100 per­cent.”

He ex­pects to re­ceive an up­date pro­ject time­line from FTS in the near fu­ture.

County of­fi­cials have stated that the rea­son for the hia­tus is a “re­struc­tur­ing” of FTS’s up­per man­age­ment. Fithian and County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Shel­ley Heller said last month the com­pany was ex­pected to make an an­nounce­ment about that soon.

As of press time Wed­nes­day, FTS rep­re­sen­ta­tives could not be reached for com­ments.

A news re­lease is­sued Fri­day states the Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers will “no longer pur­sue con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions” with FTS to bring broad­band to the county.

“While we un­der­stand that FTS is still pur­su­ing fund­ing for this and other projects, we feel that it is in both par­ties’ best in­ter­ests to ter­mi­nate this pro­ject and our in­volve­ment with FTS now, to avoid fur­ther pro­ject de­lays,” the Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers’ no­ti­fi­ca­tion let­ter to FTS states.

Ce­cil County of­fi­cials also were ex­plor­ing a part­ner­ship with FTS.

Speak­ing Fri­day, Heller said that it ap­pears that FTS CEO Brett Hill has stepped down due to per­sonal is­sues.

“Now they’re try­ing to fill the void he left be­hind,” she said. “All of this def­i­nitely took us off-guard.”

Heller said more than 30 an­chor in­sti­tu­tions have been “lit.” She said the net­work con­struc­tion costs be­tween $15 mil­lion to $20 mil­lion and that the county put in about $4.5 mil­lion, with FTS cov­er­ing the rest.

So far, the county has paid about $3.8 mil­lion, with FTS be­ing paid only after fiber has been laid down and an an­chor in­sti­tu­tion has been con­nected. The Kent County Com­mis­sion­ers did not ask for a per­for­mance bond.

“Ba­si­cally if they de­fault on the con­tract, we would gain con­trol of the county back­bone net­work,” Heller said. “FTS was ex­tremely agree­able.”

ThinkBig CEO Mark Wag­ner said in an email that his com­pany has con­nected 100 cus­tomers in Kent County to the net­work, in­clud­ing 32 com­mer­cial cus­tomers. He wrote that ThinkBig has about 900 con­tracts pend­ing with in­ter­ested cus­tomers.

“They (ThinkBig) are hook­ing peo­ple up daily, so there is no holdup,” Heller said. “The pro­ject is go­ing along as anticipated. So FTS is not out of busi­ness and the em­ploy­ees are in­deed re­turn­ing to work.”

PHOTO BY DO­RIAN MITCHELL Spools of fiber sit in front of the Chestertown ar­mory — which has been used by FTS Fiber as a head­quar­ters — Wed­nes­day morn­ing. After a hia­tus, work has re­sumed on the broad­band fiber net­work in Kent County.

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