Dalton, Georgia was not exactly drawing a lot of new business. Known as the carpet capital of the world for its flooring and chemical industry, the Dalton area of Northwest Georgia needed a little more economic life.
The municipal utilities provider, Dalton Utilities, saw the economic need in the early 2000s and also knew that the all-important telecommunications infrastructure that is the lifeblood of modern business was not being built for Dalton.
As highlighted in a recent GridTalk article“Dalton Utilities empowers its community with broadband telecom,” Hank Blackwood, Dalton’s senior vice president of utility services noted that, “A regional telecom study indicated that we were sort of in a no-man’s land of connectivity...We already had seen the benefits of high-speed broadband on our utility operations and recognized that other businesses needed that kind of connectivity also.”,
So while the revenue model was important, Dalton Utilities set out to enhance the area’s economic prosperity by providing high-speed internet to its customer base.
One of the utility’s early decisions was to go with fiber to home (FTTH) as the telecom infrastructure, and that led them to their second perhaps most important decision: Which vendor to choose for the project.
With FTTH requiring a massive initial investment, they wanted a vendor that would be around for years to come and also could provide future-proof technology that would stand the test of time. That led them to Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert), which had already completed several similar projects and was backed by Bell Labs innovation.
“Early on, we asked Alcatel-Lucent for many examples of what our deployment would look like, what its experience has been in other places, working with them and other consultants to put together a business plan for this,” Blackwood recalled. “They actually had a roadmap that said ‘Look, we’re not just deploying a product and hope everybody buys it. This is just the first step.’ We felt that their model was more future-proven than those offered by other vendors.”
The solution Alcatel-Lucent helped them install was the OptiLink broadband service, launched in 2003. From day one it offered high-speed, fiber-based Internet, phone and television for the competitively priced $75 per month. Now $96 for the triple play package, the service has roughly 12,000 customers, employs 50 employees and generates $19 million annually for the company out of the utility’s total revenue of about $200 million.
OptiLink has 60 percent customer penetration within the Dalton city limits, and between 50 and 55 percent in the more rural parts of its service areas. That significantly exceeded the utility’s expectation of between 30 and 40 percent adoption.
The architecture’s IP-based, automated technologies meant that OptiLink was able to offer triple play with a comparatively small investment, and the infrastructure has enhanced collaboration among the various divisions of the utility, which include wastewater, water treatment, stormwater management, electric and natural gas. The network also can be upgraded relatively easily, and Dalton currently is in the midst of migrating from its initial point-to-multipoint BPON network to a Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) platform.
More importantly, Blackwood said he feels that OptiLink has kept businesses from leaving town for more connected parts of the State.
“I know that we have reduced some of their operating costs because our products are cheaper than the competition, and they have access to fast telecommunications infrastructure that they can use,” Blackwood noted.
“Just as we needed those capabilities to take us to the next step, other local businesses did as well,” he added. “We certainly have stepped up the level of competition and forced other providers to step up their games accordingly, so it’s been good for the community.”
Reality is that a new dynamic communications infrastructure for enabling the smart grid and a host of operating efficiencies and a platform for new services is good for customers, great for economic development in a region and creates a sustainable differentiated competitive advantage.
Edited by Peter Bernstein