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How This Small Oklahoma Town Improves Rural Connectivity; Sallisaw Road Trip
In rural northeast Oklahoma, the city of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, built a high-speed fiber network to their residents and then expanded Internet access their rural neighbors with fixed wireless. Sallisaw’s Internet department, DiamondNet, now serves about 2,600 customers in northeastern Oklahoma.
To learn how the city does all of this, I sat down with Keith Skelton and Robin Haggard in the City Manager’s Office in the heart of the small town in late November 2017. Residents of the city have had high-speed Internet service over a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for more than a decade, but city officials have not rested on their laurels. They jumped at the chance to bring connectivity to their rural neighbors.
We learned about the network’s history in 2014, when Christopher spoke with Skelton and Telecommunications Superintendent Danny Keith, for episode 114 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He described how much of the community relied on dial-up before Sallisaw invested in DiamondNet. The network began serving the community in the early 2000s. For more on the history of DiamondNet, including the challenges they overcame as a small community, check out the podcast.
Connecting Rural Neighbors
Across the country, many fixed wireless providers have attempted to bring high-speed Internet service to rural communities. Some have found success, while others have struggled. In 2015, a small fixed wireless provider decided to get out of the business in Oklahoma. The company donated the tower to Sallisaw, which took on the challenge of providing rural connectivity.
The main goal was to improve the service for the rural areas around the city of Sallisaw, Marble City and Brushy Lake Park, about 8 miles from Sallisaw. This wireless provider is the only Internet service available other than satellite Internes access, which has unreliable coverage in the woody and rocky terrain. Data caps and expensive overage charges make satellite one of the least desirable Internet access options. When city officials started providing fixed wireless service there in July 2015, they had fewer than 100 customers on the network.
Officials started by improving the equipment using Ubiquiti (the same technology used by Sandy, Oregon, for citywide fixed wireless service before they built a FTTH network). The new technology can support speeds of up to 10 Mbps download speed. It’s still not broadband, but it answers a large need in the community. In less than three years, the fixed wireless service has now gained more than 300 customers.
Local Customer Service
Sallisaw’s DiamondNet has provided top-quality service to residents since it began serving the community with the FTTH network. The city has about 3,500 households (8,600 residents), and many subscribe to the service. The network’s 1,700 subscribers can choose from several residential Internet service options ranging from 20 Mbps download for $34.95 per month to 80 Mbps download for $99.95 per month. Upload speeds are about half the download speed. The network also offers bundled phone and video services.
Residents trust that the Internet service will work at home, and, when they have a problem, they can call the city to fix it. DiamondNet keeps the day-to-day tech support local. After-hours customer service support comes from a few DiamondNet employees who volunteer to remain on-call until 11 p.m. They take a cellphone and laptop home with them to answer calls and troubleshoot.
City officials are happy to provide high-speed Internet service to the 2,600 customers who take service. The network is not only financially solid (breaking even and on track to pay remaining debt), but also a model for how small cities can support their rural neighbors.