Need for Speed: TCLP Fiber coming in March

After years of study, planning, and preparation, Traverse City Light & Power (TCLP) is launching the first phase of its high-speed fiber internet project.

Phase one, which will provide the option of fiber internet access to more than 2,000 of TCLP’s customers, is expected to impact the downtown Traverse City area starting in May. The affected areas include the Central and Boardman neighborhoods, Eighth Street, Lake Street and Woodmere Avenue.

At a February 11 study session meeting of the TCLP board of directors, the board nailed down numerous tentative details for its fiber service, including logo design, marketing plans and price rates. The board is now looking ahead to a March 10 public hearing, where it will present the tentative rates to its customers and get feedback from stakeholders.

On hand at the meeting were two representatives from Fujitsu, the vendor TCLP has partnered with to bring fiber to Traverse City. TCLP has two different contracts with Fujitsu – the first for construction and the second for operations and maintenance. The company will be heavily involved with the launch of TCLP’s fiber service, both at launch and going forward.

Lori Butler, a senior marketing communications manager for Fujitsu, led the TCLP board through a tentative marketing plan for the new fiber service. That service – which will be known simply as TCLP Fiber – is set to go live to the 2,200 phase one customers on May 1. The launch will be preceded by several months of targeted marketing efforts, aimed at building awareness of TCLP Fiber located in phase one’s geographical radius.

Baker says that process will depend in large part on community evangelists – fiber proponents such as Traverse Connect (which now includes the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce) and 20Fathoms – which will be able to help champion and promote the new service.

Other marketing efforts will include a website launch, a new TCLP Fiber social media presence, postcards and door hangers targeted at homeowners and business owners in the downtown area, and a PR event planned for May.

Baker also presented several design options for a TCLP Fiber logo. The design selected by the board of directors is pictured left.

Also present at the meeting was Fujitsu’s Robert Worden, North America practice leader, Smart Cities/IoT at Fujitsu Network Communications, who is leading broadband operations efforts on TCLP’s behalf. Worden presented the tentative pricing for the service, which includes several pricing tiers for both residential and commercial customers. For home fiber, TCLP’s pricing will start at $59.99 per month for 200 megabit-per-second (mbps) speeds. For $10 more a month, residential customers can bump their speeds up to 500 mbps. True gigabit internet speeds – 1 gigabit per second (gbps) are also available for residential customers at $99.99 a month.

For business customers, TCLP Fiber will offer just two tiers: $99.99 per month for 500 mbps speeds and $149.99 for 1 gbps speeds.

Worden noted that all TCLP Fiber services would be a notable step up from the average internet speeds that local customers are getting currently. That average, he estimated, is 100 mbps for download speeds and 10 mbps for upload speeds. All TCLP Fiber speeds will be symmetrical, which means customers will experience upload speeds that are just as fast as their download speeds. Worden told the TCLP board that stressing the value of symmetrical speeds would be a big part of the marketing effort for TCLP Fiber, given the fact that most locals are making do with 10 mbps upload rates.

“Part of the messaging, given what’s been available (in Traverse City) has to be ‘What’s the benefit of having these symmetrical speeds?’” Worden said.

The number of devices that each home has will continue to grow exponentially, affecting the need for speed, said Worden. “That number keeps going up every year; I think the last number I saw was about 11. Next year it will be 12, then 15, then 20,” he said. “It’s every thermostat, every television, your tablets, your smartphones, everything we have in our pockets and in our homes, they’re all connected. Then we start talking smart TVs and 4K televisions, and they just introduced 8K televisions at CES (a consumer electronics trade show) in January. All of that takes bandwidth.”

Although customers won’t need the speed that fiber brings, Worden said they will nonetheless enjoy it when they have it.

“Does everybody need (these speeds) every minute of every day? No. But are they going to enjoy it when they’ve got it? You bet, because it’s going to be on, it’s going to be available, and it’s going to have all the capacity they need,” he said.

While some members of the board of directors were concerned that the pricing might not be low enough to encourage customers to switch service providers, Amy Shamroe – who serves on the TCLP board as part of her responsibilities as a Traverse City commissioner – disagreed.

“I pay $15 more for just internet service than our offering, for half the speed and way less of the upload,” Shamroe said. “My bill for my internet goes up $5 every year and nothing changes (about the service). TCLP won’t be doing that, or if we do have a raise, we have to have a public hearing for it.”

Tim Arends, executive director for TCLP, also noted that the utility would be able to learn a lot about its pricing just by eyeing “take rates” from the first few months of TCLP Fiber service. The take rate, in this case, would be the percentage of TCLP’s 2,200 phase one customers who decide to switch from their current internet service providers to TCLP Fiber.

“We’re going to be able to look at take rates, and we’re going to find out from people why they didn’t choose us,” Adends said. “They might tell us ‘It’s only $5 a month (less than what I’m paying now), so it’s not a big deal to me (to switch); what I have is good enough.’ We’re going to know those things, and look at the take rates, and if we’re not achieving our business plan, that’s when we come back here and make recommendations about price changes.”

The board ultimately voted to approve the rates on a tentative basis, with plans to finalize pricing at or following a public hearing set for 5:15 pm on March 10. That meeting will occur in the City Commission Chambers at the Grand Traverse Governmental Center.