Washington Court House, Ohio, and the Horizon Advance community with broadband

Serving as a destination point for farmers and their families to purchase needed supplies and sell their crops, Washington Court House is the county seat of Fayette County, located between Cincinnati and Columbus. The community of just over 14,000 people identifies as rural, but is home to much of the manufacturing industry.

Joe Denen

“Broadband makes our community attractive to businesses and residents,” said Joe Denen, City Manager of Washington Court House. “We have a growing stream of people from the Columbus-Dayton area who want to live in a small, rural community.”

Denen adds that “about 90% of new residents adapt very well, but some people are puzzled that they don’t have the same things they had when they lived in the city. Broadband is something to cross off the list that many people have become accustomed to.

Horizon’s FTTH expansion includes 76 miles of new fiber, passing nearly 6,500 homes and businesses in the Washington Court House area.

Attractive equipment

Washington Court House will soon offer fiber-based broadband services. Horizon, an Ohio-based fiber optic broadband company, is extending its regional fiber optic network to community residents and businesses. This fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) expansion includes 76 miles of new fiber, passing nearly 6,500 area homes and businesses. It will leverage a mix of PON and active Ethernet to deliver services to every household.

Additionally, the service provider will offer its Whole-Home Wi-Fi service, a multi-room Wi-Fi system designed to provide wall-to-wall coverage. It is an ideal solution for homes over 1,200 square feet or with multiple levels.

“We see an opportunity for people to have an incredibly reliable internet connection at a time when broadband has become the norm in their daily lives,” Denen said. “People use broadband for work and video streaming, and it’s cheaper than cable, so fiber-based broadband will provide better, cheaper choices.”

misty tuttle

In nearby Circleville, Ohio, Horizon has many customers who work for large employers in the Columbus market who were early adopters of its 1Gbps FTTH service. “They were thrilled to be able to work from home and work for Ohio State University and Nationwide Insurance, but still be able to live where they want to live,” says Misty Tuttle, general manager of business operations at Horizon. “The COVID-19 pandemic has taught people the valuable lesson that they can work anywhere broadband is available.”

Support more choices

Like other small towns and cities, Washington Court House’s broadband options have always been limited. Today, the city can access Charter Spectrum cable and the AT&T U-verse. U-verse is AT&T’s VDSL2 service, which offers lower speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps. Denen says the availability of these services is hardly uniform. AT&T U-verse “is only available in certain parts of the community,” he notes.

He adds that since AT&T’s range is limited, cable is currently the best choice for consumers who want a stable connection.

As a primarily regional player, Horizon is more responsive to the needs and concerns of its communities than large telecommunications and cable operators who often do not have the same local presence. “It’s great to work with Horizon,” says Denen. “Big utilities can be a huge challenge to work with because they have bigger bureaucracies than smaller providers.”

Secure community buy-in

At Washington Court House and in any new community in which Horizon decides to establish a new service foothold, the priority is to engage leaders. Tuttle says the phone company sees itself as a partner to every community it serves.

Horizon cites its relationship with the mayor of Circleville and other officials as an example of how to work with other communities it wants to target with its fiber service. “The first thing we do is get them on board and explain to them that this is a business and community relationship, and we need them to be on our side,” she says. “We go into people’s quarters and destroy people’s yards.”

This line of communication is critical because when a resident’s property is affected, town or city leaders are the first people the resident will call. “We’ve found that if we can get village officials and county commissioners on our side, it helps get the word out,” Tuttle said.

The telco is initially extending the service to city administrators, supporting fiber adoption efforts. “We made plans to use city officials and employees as beta testers,” says Tuttle. “We give them a discount, get them online first and let them know about the service.”

Major expansion plans

After providing telephone, cable and Internet as a 127-year-old telecommunications company based in Chillicothe, Ohio, one of Horizon’s main goals is to expand its fiber optic network to more regions of the state by working directly with communities.

Today, Horizon operates over 5,500 miles of fiber across Ohio, West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania and Indiana, with data center connectivity and backhaul services reaching Chicago. With fiber already installed in its Chillicothe territory, Horizon’s FTTH initiative began in earnest last year when it launched plans to bring service to Circleville, Ohio. Horizon now passes about 6,000 customers in Circleville.

Jim Capuano

Jim Capuano, CEO and President of Horizon, said in a statement that the construction of Circleville was a “true resident public-private partnership from the beginning.” Once Horizon activated Circleville, he decided to branch out a bit more.

Horizon has future construction plans in several communities in the area, starting with three this year. In Greenfield, Washington Court House and Lancaster, these constructions will respectively offer:

  • 31 miles of new fiber, passing through 2,665 homes and businesses
  • 76 miles of new fiber, passing nearly 6,500 homes and businesses
  • 183 miles of new fiber, passing through more than 14,600 homes and businesses.

The FTTH expansion in Greenfield is scheduled to begin construction in April 2022 and will go into service to customers in late summer 2022. Construction of the Washington Courthouse stage will begin in May 2022 and go into service to customers in September 2022. Build in Lancaster will also launch in May 2022 and go live for customers in November.

Horizon also has plans for future construction in several communities in the region. The company will soon announce construction in six additional markets. The focus will be on markets in Ohio south of Columbus, including Athens and Johnstown.

Tuttle says what’s remarkable about the target expansion areas is that Frontier, the main incumbent telecom operator, hasn’t upgraded to provide proper broadband service. “A lot of these AT&T and Frontier territories have been overlooked for a while,” she says. “We recognized the need and proved that we could [expand] quickly as an overbuilder in Circleville and now we continue to stand out.

Horizon has future construction projects in several communities in the region. A large focus will be areas south of Columbus, Ohio.

An evolving life

Similar to many rural telephone companies, Horizon’s roots as a family telephone company date back to the late 19th century. It was founded in 1895 as the Home Telephone Co., the incumbent local exchange carrier for Ross County, Ohio.

Over time, the supplier realized that it needed to strengthen its identity. Former Horizon CEO Bill McKell said in a Columbus Business First article that switching from a local telephone company “was a matter of survival that became a vision.”

In 2018, Canadian private equity firm Novacap bought Horizon. With Novacap as owner, Horizon can continue to expand its fiber network to more communities. “Novacap breathed new life into us,” says Tuttle.

Horizon’s broadband expansion efforts have been anchored in building a midstream network to serve large enterprises and provide a wireless backhaul to large wireless carriers.

The telecom operator’s Horizon Network Partners division previously built a fiber optic network in southeast Ohio, including Columbus. It also reaches five other states through partnerships with service providers. In 2010, Horizon received stimulus funds from the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) to fund the mid-mile fiber optic network.

“We were an ILEC and got funding to do BTOP-type projects, but we were just focused on businesses and mobile carriers,” Tuttle says. “We were passing thousands of homes, but we could never get the math to work to serve them. Now we can make the math work; we have Novacap and another investor, and we are good to go.

Although Horizon already has funding for ongoing projects it has planned, it has applied for funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to further expand the service. “What the funding would do is allow us to expand into even more rural markets,” says Tuttle.

Horizon faced contests from other providers when it applied for federal funds, which Tuttle said shows that energy providers and communities are building broadband. Charter Spectrum, for its part, is aggressively seeking broadband stimulus funding to extend services deeper into rural areas. As part of MSO Cable’s $5 billion investment, it received $1.2 billion in funds from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).

“As someone who lives in this rural area, it’s exciting that everyone is applying for this funding and everyone wants to drive fiber deeper into their networks,” says Tuttle. “Competition is good for consumers, and I want to see the region prosper and people have access to high-speed internet.”

Sean Buckley is the editor of Broadband Communities. You can contact him at [email protected]

Sean Buckley

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