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Municipal networks in the United States have proven that when dollars are invested in publicly owned information infrastructure, they often return value back to the community several times over. This new fact sheet [pdf] highlights municipal broadband success stories from across the country and some of the many benefits the networks have brought to the communities they serve.
These networks are directly accountable to the community and have proved themselves for more than 20 years in some cases, bringing lower prices to households than the large private providers. Municipal networks and partnerships account for 9 of the top 10 fastest broadband networks in the nation.
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Conway is right in the middle – in the middle of Arkansas with its utility company, Conway Corp, in the middle of beefing up its broadband network.
In this city of 66,000 – home to the information technology company Acxiom Corporation and three colleges – residents and businesses have long relied on Conway Corp for more than just electricity since the utility first launched its cable and Internet service in 1997.
Conway Corp, which has been Conway’s electric utility for the past 90 years, has a unique relationship with the city’s government. “We are different in the way we are set up as compared to many other municipal networks. We are set up as a non-profit. We lease the network and operate it on behalf of the city,” explained Conway Corp Chief Marketing Officer Crystal Kemp.
At the heart of the utility’s network management has been the on-going work to stay ahead of the curve.
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“When we launched Internet services in 1997, upstream capacity wasn’t a concern and systems were built with the average homes (and) businesses per geographic area, or node, at 500. Today those numbers are less than 95 per node. That’s been achieved through physical changes in the network and changes in our engineering practices,” Conway Corp’s Chief Technology Officer Jason Hansen told us last week.
Upgrades to the Hybrid-Fiber-Coax (HFC) network began to take shape in 2019 with the deployment of DOCSIS 3.1, allowing Conway Corp to double its downstream capacity. They also began upgrading equipment that paved the way for expanded use of the RF (Radio Frequency) spectrum to boost the network’s bandwidth. As of December 2020, about 50 percent of the upstream upgrade work had been completed with the remainder expected to be finished by the summer of 2021.
Conway, Arkansas, has been offering Internet access for approximately 20 years; in December, it will begin offering Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) download connectivity to the community. Conway's highest tier Internet access will cost $94.95 per month. According to Conway Corp.'s announcement, the utility will use a 32-channel cable modem to deliver the faster download speeds via the current infrastructure. Upload speeds will be 50 Mbps.
In a statement, reproduced in Multichannel News, CEO Richard Arnold said:
“Internet usage has grown and will continue to as cloud-based products and services become more prevalent. Gigabit download speeds seem a luxury today, but may be tomorrow’s necessity.”
Between 1995 and 1997, the utility completed a citywide cable rebuild in which they used both fiber and coaxial cable. The $5.6 million project allowed them to offer Internet access to Conway subscribers. As an early adopter of municipal Internet access, Conway’s move toward Gig connectivity makes sense:
“For several years, we have been on a strategic path toward gigabit service,” said chief technology officer Jason Hansen in a statement. “With this initiative, Conway Corp is embracing its position as an Internet technology leader.”
- Basic : 6 Mbps download / 1 Mbps upload - $36.95 per month
- Broadband 25 : 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps - $41.95 per month
- Broadband 50 : 50 Mbps / 5 Mbps - $51.95 per month
- Broadband 100 : 100 Mbps / 10 Mbps - $84.95 per month
Conway is county seat to Faulkner County, located in the center of the state and through its utility system, Conway Corp., provides electric, water, wastewater, Internet access, cable TV, and telephone services to the community of 65,000. Conway is considered a suburb of Little Rock, but many of the residents don't commute out of the city for work as there are a number of large employers in Conway.