The old saying “if you want something done well, do it yourself” is often not helpful when your problem is not having a good Internet service. But for a man in rural Michigan named Jared Mauch, who happens to be a network architect, the solution to not having good broadband at home is actually building his own fiber-Internet service provider.
“I had to start a phone company to get (high-speed) Internet access in my house,” Mauch explained in a recent presentation about your new ISP that serves you at home City of Sciowhich is next to Ann Arbor, as well as a few dozen other houses in Washtenaw County.
Mauch, a senior network architect at Akamai in his day job, moved into his home in 2002. At the time, he had a T1 line when 1.5Mbps was “a really big Internet connection,” he said. As broadband technology improves, Mauch hopes that an ISP will eventually wire up your home. It never happened.
Eventually he switched to a wireless Internet service provider that delivered about 50Mbps. Mauch at one point contacted Comcast, which told him it would cost him $50,000 to extend its cable network to his home. “If they had priced it at $10,000, I would have written them a check,” Mauch told Ars. “It’s high at $50,000 which makes me wonder if this is worth it. Why would I pay them to expand their network if I’m not getting anything back out of it?”
AT&T, the current phone company, finally offered DSL to Mauch five years ago, he said. However, AT&T’s advertising plans for its neighborhood have topped out at a measly 1.5Mbps—good speed in 2002, not in 2020. AT&T stopped offering basic DSL to new customers in October and hasn’t upgraded many. rural area to modern replacements, leaving users. like Mauch without any great options.
But about four years ago, Mauch began planning to build his own provider that offers fiber-to-the-home broadband in parts of Scio and Lima. Mauch has installed five miles of cable so far and started connecting its first customers a few months ago. In early January, Mauch told us he had connected 30 homes and had 10 more homes to wire up. He initially thought he would get about 35 percent of potential customers, but he actually got about 70 percent. Mauch’s unconnected customers generally rely on cellular service, he said.
Washtenaw Fiber Properties LLC
Mauch’s company name is Washtenaw Fiber Properties LLCand that register as a competitive revenue provider with Michigan state government. While technically a phone company, Mauch only provides Internet service without any phone or TV offerings.
“My bill is really ridiculous,” Mauch said, explaining that the paperwork he’s required to file with the state states that his company provides services only on an individual, case-by-case basis. .
Mauch said he spent about $145,000, of which $95,000 went to the contractor who installed most of the cables. Cable lines are generally about six feet underground and in some cases 10 or 20 feet underground to avoid gas pipes and other obstructions.
The largest phase of construction begins in March 2020. Mauch has the contractor install two conveyors that run side by side because it is less expensive than installing one conveyor. Having an empty appendix currently gives Mauch the option of adding more fiber later; you can also rent or sell empty water to another phone company down the line.
Putting the actual fiber cables into the conduits was a task that Mauch did himself. A strong wind can stretch over $26,000, but Mauch said he built one using a rented air compressor and about $50 worth of parts from a hardware store. Mauch said he also spent $8,000 on a routing machine that installs cables or conduit under highways and roads without digging holes.
Mauch purchases Internet connectivity and bandwidth for its ISP from ACD.net, a large network provider, but ACD.net has not deployed cable lines to the Mauch area. Mauch now runs two miles of cable from his home to the nearest ACD.net cable network, where he connects his cable to their network. Bandwidth provided by ACD.net now travels to the fiber distribution panel on Mauch’s property, allowing Mauch’s home to serve as a hub that provides connectivity to its customers. Mauch also purchased a backup connection from 123Net to provide redundancy. If Mauch ever sells his home, he said he plans to give himself the flexibility to access an ISP-related facilities on the property.
ISP equipment at the Mauch home includes an Arista router for communicating with ACD.net; Ubiquiti fiber optic terminal; an Intel NUC server for network monitoring, mapping, and client speed tests; a Mac Mini for backups; and a Raspberry Pi 4 that acts as a backup DHCP server. It also has a whole-house backup generator, although its customers may still lose connectivity when their power goes out.
In customer homes, Mauch installs Mikrotik RBFTC11 media converter with Ubiquiti PON-to-Ethernet module. Customers can provide their own wireless routers or buy one from Mauch at cost—he doesn’t do router rentals, which is generally a bad deal for customers anyway.
Mauch originally estimated the project would cost $60,000, but it ended up being more than double that. Some customers spend $5,000 up front to help offset home costs and will receive several years of service credits in exchange now that the network is built. Based on the amount Mauch invested and the money he was expecting, he estimated he would break even within 42 months.
“I copied the prepaid model from an existing ISP that had experience with it,” Mauch said, noting that he learned from the experiences of many ISPs. One of the ISPs Mauch learned from Vergennes Broadband in Michigan, a provider written in 2015. Now that Mauch has built an ISP, he says he has provided advice to many other people working on the projects of themselves
Construction is not a breeze. Mauch received a stop work order from the county because he had not installed enough stakes in the right-of-way. Mauch also ran into confusion over a requirement to provide 48 hours notice before work—he said he didn’t know he needed to provide that notice every time his employees worked. “Permit agencies are not always clear about what their requirements are…and this is a barrier to entry for new providers like me,” Mauch told us.
Another snag came when a machine was stolen from one of Mauch’s work sites. “We actually found it for sale on Facebook, and we managed to recover it very well because of the hard work on the part of the police and our own investigation,” he said.
The pandemic helped Mauch a little because there was less traffic and people were generally at home, making it easier to run cable to their homes, he said. The pandemic also helped local residents realize how important broadband access is, which may have boosted the enrollment rate for Mauch’s work.
Mauch is charging $65 per month for asymmetrical 50Mbps service, $75 for 250Mbps, and $99 for 500Mbps, with an installation fee of up to $199 depending on installation complexity (recently rising to $599 for new signups). If a house is more than 200 feet from the road, it charges an additional 45 cents per foot to run the cable.