NEIT continues to bring fiber optic to customers

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Northeast Iowa Telephone Company (NEIT) is continuing to expand fiber optic within its service area, this summer providing the capabilities to all of its customers in the Farmersburg and St. Olaf rural exchanges, said Steve Hanson, director of business development at NEIT.

“We’ve been pretty busy lately,” said Hanson, who was the guest at Murphy Helwig Library’s monthly coffee house June 6. “We built out fiber in Postville last year, so we’ve just about completed the local territory.”

The communities of Monona (where NEIT is based), Luana, Farmersburg and St. Olaf have all had fiber to the home for several years, Hanson noted. 

“The last two summers, we’ve also been chipping away at fiber to the rural areas,” he said, with areas north and east of Monona now completed. “We’ll bite big chunks off this year and the next.”

Hanson said NEIT’s engineers determine the fiber optic trajectory based upon the network’s design.

“They’ll say, ‘This area makes sense to do this year, as opposed to next year,’” he explained.

The use of fiber optic cable has become necessary, Hanson said, as older, copper cable has struggled to keep up with technology. Made of a strand of glass with lasers at each end that transmit communication signals, fiber optic cable offers significantly faster internet speeds. 

“Things move at the speed of light,” Hanson said. “You can’t get any faster.”

With copper cable, people would notice drops in bandwidth, which Hanson described as the amount of internet speed available. He said to think of it as water going through a pipe: it drops off at each home, then slows down at the end.

With fiber optic, “it’s like sending a hose directly to each home,” he said. “It never drops.”

Fiber optic, Hanson noted, is more reliable. Once the cable is in the ground, it should remain there for the foreseeable future, with only the laser ends possibly needing to be swapped out.

In addition, fiber optic is less susceptible to the weather and removes the need for a modem, which is the device that translated electrical signals through the copper cable.

With fiber optic, said Hanson, customers will still need a router, and a box will be placed on the outside of each home. The fiber will go into the house through that box and connect to the router. 

NEIT and other smaller telecommunications companies—of which there are 135 across Iowa—are at the front of the fiber revolution, Hanson said.

“The small companies are ahead of the curve on fiber,” he said. “We’re pretty far advanced here.”

Hanson said that’s largely attributable to how the companies invest the money they receive from the federal universal service fund.

“The bigger companies don’t invest in the same way,” he explained. “If they have $100,000, they’re going to do an upgrade in Des Moines to serve 100 people versus three people in rural Iowa.”

Companies like NEIT, on the other hand, would lay cable to three rural customers.

Fiber optic is expensive, Hanson said, but it’s an important upgrade of their network, as well as an important factor in the area’s economic development.

“As far as economic development, fiber is where it’s at,” he said. “Businesses want that faster speed.”

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