FTS resumes progress on county fiber network
— 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.