Travis Lunbeck prepares to connect fiber for the City of Houston 's internet system.

That white tent popping up on rights-of-way around Houston signals the wait is over for some homeowners and businesses eager to hook on to the region’s first municipally owned fiber-to-the-home internet system.

Installation of the fiber optics cable began in 2021, and a big chunk of the city is now eligible to hook on to the system that features speeds up to 1 gig. Projected to cost just less than $2 million, the City of Houston’s system is available in areas around Oak Hill Drive, downtown and homes north of Highway 17 and stretching west to the Houston Memorial Airport. Areas south of Highway 17 are targeted for fiber installation on utility poles in two time frames: The first will be south to near Houston Pizza Hut — and hopefully completed by April. Areas further south will see work in their neighborhoods by summer. COVID-19 has slowed contractors working on the project.

At the end of the week, two members of the electric department and a third person, technician Tyler Guynn, who does installations were connecting a home near First Street and Chestnut Street. A property owner popped out to the crew to inquire when his home might receive connection. About 100 customers are signed up so far. The goal is 600. Persons who haven’t had their signed fiber contract returned from the city should call 417-967-3348 to check on its status.

Braedin Groff, left, and Travis Lunbeck work on connecting a home.

The city’s internet uses the fiber-optic cable instead of traditional copper cable or satellite signals to provide access to the internet. Fiber-optic lines consist of up to hundreds of small strands of glass, each smaller than the size of single human hair. The fiber transmits data using pulses of light that travel across cable at very fast speed. Users will see nearly identical upload and download speeds.

At the residential connection on Chestnut Street, workmen used sophisticated equipment to splice the fiber under the tent, put it in a cylinder that holds the wiring and place it back on an utility pole. They later tested the connection from two key locations: Nearby at a wiring cabinet called a “PON” situated on the grounds of Houston City Hall and the home of the system at the Houston Storm Shelter. From the First and Pine streets building — where equipment is located — a unit of CenturyLink, Lumen Technologies, and Sho-Me Technologies pumps in the bandwidth to fire up the city system. Two providers are used. If one goes down, all traffic is funneled to the other.

Sophisticated equipment is used to fuse together fiber.
Travis Lunbeck attaches wiring and a container to a city utility pole.

Residential customers pick from a variety of speeds — ranging from 25 Mb/second for $30 a month to 1 gig for $90. Business pricing ranges from 50 Mb/second for $75 a month to $250 for a 1 Gb/second. (Signup is available at houstonmo.org/fiber or call 417-967-3348).

The capital outlay for the major city initiative comes from reserves from its profitable electrical system that over the years has funded millions of dollars in capital improvements in Houston. Under the model selected by the city, contractors installed the fiber on poles and city employees will make the connections to customers. City leaders hope the system not only helps existing residents and businesses, but leads to the attraction of new businesses and citizens who call Houston home. Additionally, school children will benefit from faster connection — a point that was driven home during the pandemic when education shifted to virtual learning. Under a new Federal Communication effort, Affordable Connectivity Program — monthly discounts of $30 monthly are available for struggling households. (fcc.gov/acp)

How a fiber-to-the-home internet system works.

The city hopes new investment also will arrive in Houston due to extremely fast connections. Many modern startups are built on the ability to move significant amounts of data across the internet quickly.

For video-conferencing, cloud storage, and real-time data analysis, fast and consistent internet is essential.

Learn more at houstonmo.org/fiber

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