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Waterville investing millions to upgrade internet fiber optics with HDD
Anyone who has traveled in the Waterville or Harpers Ferry areas at all during the months of August, September, October and November likely saw the large crews from Central Cable and ACE Communications hard at work. Many wondered what they were doing with their unique equipment such as trenchers and huge rolls of orange conduit. And those who knew they were upgrading the fiber optic network in those areas certainly wondered how they did it.

Ace Communications Group is wrapping up an upgrade to plant and facilities in the communities of Harpers Ferry and Waterville that will result in increased services to its customers in those communities.  The estimated cost of the project once it is completed will be between $5.9 million and $6 million, according to Brian Jerviss, engineering supervisor with Ace Communications Group. In the Waterville area, Ace has about 660 customers, and in the Harpers Ferry area there are about 605.

Ace’s CEO, Todd Roesler, said that the investment was hard to justify from a business standpoint, but cooperatives are different from other businesses. “When we were considering this project last fall, our staff, board of directors and everyone involved decided that, as a co-op, if we were to continue to offer services in those areas it needed to be done. Broadband is highly desirable, if not necessary, to our future.”

The project involved the replacement of aging copper facilities between the central offices and the cabinets with a total of more than 140 miles of fiber optic cable. The cabinets contain electronic equipment similar to that in the Ace Communications’ central office. “In essence, we are moving the needed equipment closer to the customers,” Jerviss said.

The change will allow many customers to add digital television services, and will give almost all customers with internet service a faster connection than is possible at the present time. The services available will depend on how far a customer is from a cabinet.

Crews added 14 additional cabinets to shorten the distance the signal has to travel between the customer and the electronics, providing a higher quality signal. The project brings the total number of cabinets in the Waterville and Harpers Ferry service area to 40. Jerviss says most of Ace’s exchanges were already at or near the level of technology being installed in the Waterville and Harpers Ferry areas. “The number of customers in these areas is not high, but geographically it is large,” he said. “We knew that the internet in these areas was not what it needed to be.”

Burying the fiber started the last week of August, Jerviss says, and it is hoped it will be completed the last week of November. Central Cable of Waupun, WI started out with one crew of about 20 workers, and mid-October they added a second crew of about 20. Most of the workers stayed in Allamakee County during the week while working on the project. Finley Engineering and Central Cable worked with Ace on the project.

In some areas, crews from Central Cable trenched in the new fiber optics, and in other areas they used directional boring. To do directional boring, their specialized equipment sends a rod down at an angle, then it levels out straight, and then angles back up. When they pull the rods out, they pull the orange conduit through.

Lee Hendricks, a directional drilling foreman with Central Cable, says they are sometimes able to do directional boring up to 1,700 feet before they have to resurface the rod. They can bore up to 3,000 feet in about seven hours on a good day. The amount of underground rock in the Harpers Ferry and Waterville area has required use of their rock drilling equipment in many instances. On the day he shared this information while working in Harpers Ferry he was about 500 feet from the drilling rig, using equipment to detect how far the drill had traveled.

Jerviss says they have upgraded the signal that carries video and increased the bandwidth in some areas, but they will not start hooking up households to the new cabinets and fibers until December. Hooking up customers will continue through February and March, until the project is complete.
“We are pleased that we are able to make this investment in Harpers Ferry and Waterville,” said Roesler. “Ace is committed to all its customers, and this project demonstrates the level of our commitment.”

ACE is currently not considering a rate increase for internet services. Roesler says, “Ace intends to remain competitive with rates and quality of service.” The upgrades to the fiber network are being funded through the cooperative. Ace’s customers in Iowa are members of Ace Telephone Association, a cooperative established in 1950. Members are the owners of the cooperative and earn capital credits on the services they purchase from Ace.

Ace has served communities in northeast Iowa since the 1950s. In addition to Harpers Ferry and Waterville, Ace is located in Clermont, Ossian, Castalia, Dorchester, Eitzen, New Albin, Festina, Fort Atkinson, Highlandville, Ossian, Rossville, Waukon Junction, and Frankville. It also has exchanges in southeastern Minnesota and in Michigan.