With construction slated to begin this spring, Silver Star Communications plans to bring fiber optic cable, and with it access to high-speed internet, to every home within town limits.
Called SilverLight Fiber Network, the project will be the first-of-its-kind open access network funded by private dollars. That approach will save the town both tax dollars and digging, said Paul Petersen, chief operating officer and vice president of Silver Star, which operates in western Wyoming and eastern Idaho.
Traditionally, nonprofits and municipalities have deployed open access networks to improve provider choice or connectivity for their constituents. In this case, private dollars will do the heavy lifting.
“So the city is not having to spend any money in terms of taxpayer dollars to get this built out,” Petersen said.
While Silver Star will install, operate and maintain the fiber optic infrastructure — expected to reliably deliver connections at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second — other companies will have access to it. Silver Star will charge a consistent rate to other internet service providers, who then can set their own pricing to the end user, he said. Petersen said it was too soon to name specific providers, but conversations are ongoing with interested ISPs.
“So instead of a monopoly with just one provider dictating the price, the internet service providers that join the network will have the ability to set their own pricing,” Petersen said.
Likewise, the network will be equally available to all residents.
“So it’s just not the haves, but it’s everyone,” he said. “All of the hard-working, middle-class folks that live in Jackson can enjoy that same high-speed connectivity as existing commercial customers that we’re serving today.”
Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson lauded the project in a press release announcing the new network.
“This is an important step in continuing to close the digital divide, helping ensure that every household in our [town] has the opportunity to access the internet,” the mayor said in the release. “From education to small business and health care, improved connectivity will be a great benefit to our town.”
Building an open access network also benefits the town with a “dig once” approach. Because other companies will have access, they won’t have to install their own fiber.
“That really means we just put the facility in once versus having five independent ISPs coming in and doing five different construction projects at the same time, which would really cause havoc within the city,” Petersen said.
Internet connectivity in town still depends, in many cases, on copper telephone lines or coaxial lines operated by cable companies, Petersen said. “The problem with those is, they all have their limitations in terms of speed and longevity,” he said, adding that fiber optic cable doesn’t have those limits.
Petersen declined to disclose the estimated cost of the project but said it would run in the millions of dollars. While there is federal grant money available for expanding internet access, Petersen said those dollars are best used outside town limits.
“Where we want to direct that federal support and those grant dollars is in the extreme rural areas, where you’ve got miles of infrastructure to build to get to a single home or a group of homes,” he said.
A group of ranchers and business investors started Silver Star Communications in 1912 when the population in lower Star Valley was not big enough to attract the Bell Telephone Company. The group used livestock fencing to carry telephone lines across the valley, according to the company’s website. The Hoopes family bought the company in 1956, and Silver Star placed its first fiber optic cable in 1990.
A privately funded, open access network is unique, according to Silver Star.
“We believe the future of rural networks is an open-access approach that will allow residents to have choice in providers,” Silver Star President Barbara Sessions said in a release. “We are proud to push the boundaries of our industry’s traditional business model. We also believe this model can be replicated in many other areas in our state.”
Jackson residents can sign up for a free fiber drop to their home and construction updates by registering their address at Silverlight-Fiber.com.
“We believe the future of rural networks is in an open access approach.” — Barbara Sessions president of Silver Star