Matt Farr and Calix Optical Network Terminal

Photo courtesy of Brigham Griffin/direct communicationsMatt Farr, engineer and operations manager for Direct Communications, shows the new Calix Optical Network Terminal.

    Arbon Valley just became a lot less remote thanks to an upgrade of its phone system to fiber optics. Every resident in Arbon now is able to receive broadband access.

    Direct Communications engineers have buried 158 miles of fiber optic cable in Arbon Valley, bringing fiber to about 90 homes.

    Besides the direct access to high-speed internet from Direct Communications, the fiber allows connection to two cell phone towers in the valley, which will increase coverage and data speeds for people using certain cell phones.

    “Arbon was a good starting point for us because it was so open, the construction was straightforward, and there weren’t a lot of other utilities to worry about running into,” said  Matt Farr, engineer and operations manager for Direct Communications. “Also, we had a lot of customers there in Arbon that simply could not receive any internet signal before, because the farms and homes were so spread out.”

    Farr said fiber was the obvious solution.

    “It’s been good to hear customers tell us things like: ‘We tried streaming Netflix for the first time ever last night — that was pretty cool,’” Farr said.

    The company’s fiber to the home rollout in Arbon began in the summer of 2009, and since then, Directcom crews have been working around the clock, laying fiber optic cable to all of the homes in the valley. Even the very remote homes, from those miles up in the mountains to down the valley, can now receive better high-speed internet service than is available in most cities in the U.S.

    The company said it began with Arbon because this exchange area had always been the most difficult to serve with traditional DSL over copper, and thus had the fewest broadband subscribers.

    There is no resistance in the fiber optic cable, unlike copper lines, so the signal can travel infinitely further, because it’s light, not an electron flow. Arbon customers will now have access to broadband products like ethernet, VOIP, video conferencing, home security systems, remote appliance management, and other IP-based apps.

    Farr related that the residents of Arbon had been extremely cooperative during the construction, often helping out the crews, which had helped the project go smoothly.

    “The farmers would let us park our equipment in their sheds or shops overnight so that things like the water trailer wouldn’t freeze; they would let us fill up with water from their pumps — the whole community was just really helpful,” Farr said.

    He related that people were so excited to get internet service that they would go out of their way to help get the work completed quickly.

    “Once, at the end of the season, we were stopped by a really bad snowstorm, and a resident from Garden Creek drove out in the snow to pick up our fiber splicer, and all his equipment, on her personal snowmobile, so that we could complete the fiber splicing at their home,” Farr said.

    The project engineer also said when crews ran out of gas one time, local resident Ken Estep  came out  and provided a full tank of gas from his farm tanks.

    Farr thanked the Power County Highway District crew in Arbon for all its help.

    “They were extremely responsive in issuing all the road permits and easements we needed, and were very easy to work with — we were able to coordinate our fiber and road construction schedules — we couldn’t have completed this project without them,” Farr said.

    Directcom used local Arbon electrician Cody Evans to help wire the homes’ internal communications lines so that they would be ready for a fiber ethernet connection, and also to connect the homes’ power to the fiber terminal battery backup. Unlike the old copper network terminal, the fiber electronics (called an Optical Network Terminal, or ONT) on the side of a home, needs a power supply, and that required new electrical wiring in most cases.

    Construction supervisor Lucas McHargue said he remembers those years working in Arbon consisting of long, sometimes lonely days, and each home they connected had a story to it.

    “I remember times when the snow was so deep on people’s driveways that even the backhoe couldn’t go through it, and we would have to move forward bucket by bucket as I cleared the snow away,” McHargue said. “We met a lot of interesting people out there, and a lot of different dogs — some friendly, some not so friendly. People would call into the main office after we left their home and say: ‘Those guys deserve a raise,’ which I agreed with.”

    The Arbon area’s first telephone lines were laid by local farmers, who asked former Rockland Telephone Company owner Joseph Lee May to acquire the lines back in the 1950s. He was able to connect the two exchange areas together using copper lines hung on poles.

    Arbon and Rockland are now connected by various buried fiber optic lines that run right over the mountains separating the valleys.   Arbon will become part of a route that transports a lot of data traffic around southeast Idaho for various major carriers.

    Finishing the Arbon Valley fiber project is part of a 5-year plan by Directcom. The next major project involves the Bear Lake area.

    “Bear Lake is the biggest project and that will take longer, but we already have a few subdivisions there completely converted to fiber, including The Reserve and Cottle Communities in Fish Haven,” Farr said. “This summer we also buried new duct to about 30 homes in Canyon Estates in Fish Haven, and we hope to complete splicing the fiber there by the end of this year.”

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