Following the fiber infrastructure announcement from Mayor John Hamilton on December 8, I wanted to note that I personally applaud the Mayor for taking the time to make this decision, particularly given his heavy load of responsibilities concerning local road issues, city water, and trash collection challenges.
Some have already asked me about the potential impact the Mayor’s decision may have on our current Bloomington fiber plans. The announcement was certainly and unnecessarily disruptive to our short-term view, but we have decided that Smithville will continue assessing consumer interest in its high-speed Gigabit internet service in southeast Bloomington through the end of December. If neighborhoods formally indicate a high enough interest, Smithville will continue with its construction plans for premium state-of-the-art fiber connectivity. If they don’t, then we will make other plans.
As previously noted, Smithville complied with the Mayor’s request earlier this year to respond to a formal RFI for fiber infrastructure. Given our deep long-term direct experience in Bloomington, we are fully aware of the costs and challenges inherent in a citywide fiber development. Given our direct experience, we are also acutely aware that businesses who deal with secure data typically don’t prefer or want an open access architecture as has been described in the recent announcement.
When we began this current residential formal assessment in September, we began that process based on our current Bloomington fiber presence and how that might be cost-effective in extending premium fiber service. Our goal was to see how many residents truly wanted our fiber service. Over the years we have received many e-mails and comments about how Bloomington residents wanted our service, so this represents our good faith effort to find out who actually did want Smithville service. The effort was and is a complementary effort to provide 21st century fiber connectivity for the people of Bloomington.
This current effort follows an assessment model used by Google Fiber and other major fiber companies. Under our current plans, we will stop accepting new signups after January 1, 2017 and then we will make our decisions based on the accumulated data as to whether we will begin engineering and construction of new fiber networks in Bloomington.
I also want to note that the way the Mayoral announcement was made may have caused some unnecessary and unfounded concerns about the future of Smithville and its future, particularly as it pertains to Smithville’s residential, commercial and institutional customers within the greater Bloomington area.
Through a fiber expansion beginning back in 2008, Smithville previously completed a $100 million fiber conversion based on a loan (not a federal or state grant) that it secured. Today Smithville serves about 6,000 customers in the greater Bloomington area and continues to add customers to those existing fiber service areas. Those areas will not be affected by future decisions about any expansion in southeast Bloomington or elsewhere.
As an Indiana-based company that has been nationally recognized for excellence and innovation several years in row, Smithville is proud of its long-established commitment to superior customer service and experience. Our business model of innovation and outstanding customer service serves everyone well in an intensely competitive environment.
It is also fair to note that many companies of Smithville’s size might likely be hard-pressed to stand up to Smithville’s record of positive community service and support. This is particularly true in the Bloomington area and with singularly important institutions like Indiana University. In addition to our many annual corporate sponsorships of school activities, non-profits and other worthy organizations, the Smithville Charitable Foundation has separately awarded more than $8 million in grants to qualified 501 C 3 organizations in the 17 counties where we serve. That is a totally discretionary effort on our part, and one that we typically don’t talk about much in a public setting.
I would invite people to remember that as an independent company, Smithville is nearly 100 years old, successfully weathering a Great Depression, numerous recessions and many mayoral, state and federal administrations. We believe we are successful because we put our customers first and that we are committed to providing the best technology available. Being based in Indiana with dedicated employees gives us that advantage. We reinvest heavily in the communities we serve. We work to reward those who give us their confidence as a service provider.
As a company, Smithville is growing. We make private investments in our various expansions and in our existing customer base, assuming appropriate risks. This includes our legacy copper-based customers as well as our emerging fiber base. Earlier last year we initiated a $1 million private investment to upgrade our legacy copper systems. There was no federal or regulatory requirement to do this. It’s how we do business. We hope to do more there with continued private investments.
We are on record as supporting fiber expansion from local, regional and statewide perspectives. Fiber is the future of Smithville and fiber is the future of our industry. We just don’t talk about it. We do it. We are fortunate to have an enthusiastic and highly trained group of employees who are passionate about building and sustaining the best and most reliable fiber network in the state of Indiana. In my view, that’s a major part of the reason we’ve been named a national Top 100 Broadband Company for several years in a row.
All of our customers, whether in Bloomington or elsewhere, can remain confident that Smithville will continue to do its part in providing the best service available. We were the first company in Indiana to light up our existing fiber service to a gigabit level, the first to inaugurate true symmetrical gigabit fiber service, and many other achievements. We have been positively recognized several times as a champion of rural Indiana.
Unlike our competitors, Smithville is local. The owners live here. Smithville is locally focused and fiercely proud of that commitment.