Detroit Rockets to Gigabit Speeds

Fiber Installation/DeploymentFTTx/Optical NetworksNext Generation Technologies

Entrepreneurial Local Provider Deploys Fiber to Fight Blight

A look at the transformation of the Ransom Gillis mansion in Detroit’s Brush Park neighborhood provides the perfect metaphor for the city itself: once a beautiful mansion, quickly devoured by blight, until it was renovated this past year.

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Large fiber spools are placed into a communications box on the streets of Detroit, ready to be connected to nearby buildings.

Many similar initiatives, including more than just blight removal, have taken place across the city. One example is the boost in broadband infrastructure. With incumbent providers slow or reluctant to put forth an investment, Rocket Fiber, a Detroit-based gigabit Internet service provider, stepped up and committed to improving and future-proofing the city’s broadband infrastructure.

Why Detroit?
Detroit’s problems were similar to those of any major city until the nationwide financial crisis in 2008. According to census data, the population of the city declined 25% from 2000 to 2010 — the highest percent decline in its history. This economic crisis and corresponding population decrease, along with mismanagement of the city’s available funds, led to a series of declines in public infrastructure: half of the city’s streetlights were out, blight was widespread, and the water system faced budget shortfalls.

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View of fiber spools in a communications box.

Since emerging from bankruptcy, organizations such as the Public Lighting Authority, Blight Removal Task Force, and Great Lakes Water Authority, were created to resolve these problems. Even with all of the infrastructure improvements taking place, there still was not much being done to alleviate the broadband deficiencies present across the city. At Rocket Fiber’s inception in 2014, about 40% of households in the city of Detroit had no Internet access of any kind. Businesses were having difficulties acquiring and maintaining stable Internet connections. Incumbent providers were less-than-enthused to invest in the city. If Detroit was to improve further, it would need a better network infrastructure.

Citing fiber optic network developments in Chattanooga and Kansas City, our co-founders Marc Hudson, Edi Demaj, and Randy Foster sought to bring the technology to Detroit. Fiber optic cable is far more efficient for moving data, and experiences virtually no interference the way traditional copper cables can.

Deploying a fiber network infrastructure made sense to accelerate the revitalization efforts currently taking place. The challenges were the older buildings in the city center that needed to be “fibered”. Many buildings are designated as historic structures, and with that comes strict rules and regulations regarding construction and upgrades.

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The delicate work of fiber splicing takes place in a splicing trailer such as this.

Building layouts posed another challenge, as a significant number had basements that extend under
the sidewalk to the street, making sidewalk trenching impossible.

Trenching in the roadways is costly, disruptive, and inefficient; having to trench both sides of the street separately to service all buildings.

We were able to find a way around both by trenching through alleys. By not trenching in sidewalks or roadways, alley trenching minimized disruptions. And since 1 trench allowed all surrounding buildings to be connected, it minimized cost and maximized efficiency.

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A technician neatly places the fiber cable in the media box of an apartment building after connecting to an ONT.

Since officially launching in January 2016 of this year, the Company has laid over 20 miles of brand new fiber connecting to more than 50 residential and commercial buildings in 4 neighborhoods throughout the city.

Walking Its Talk
In addition to building a state-of-the-art infrastructure throughout the city, we are also transforming the client experience. With customer service in the telecommunications industry consistently ranked as one of the worst, we aim to improve that reputation.

Future expansions for us include adding more and more neighborhoods and suburbs into the service footprint, as well as adding a TV platform to the service offerings.

Rocket Fiber, founded in 2014 as part of the Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans Family of Companies, is a Detroit-based Internet service provider. Our fiber technology is delivering gigabit Internet speeds that are up to 1,000 times faster than the average connection, transforming the way our clients create, collaborate, and communicate, while we focus on our commitment to provide out-of-this-world client care and service. For more information, please visit www.rocketfiber.com.

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About Randy Foster

Randy Foster is Co-Founder and CTO, Rocket Fiber. With more than 10 years of experience in network engineering and management, his experience focuses on developing unique solutions that address the service needs of organizations and their clients, and evaluating those solutions for their adherence to the organizational vision. For more information, please visit www.rocketfiber.com.