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Power County Press (American Falls, ID )
Cutting edge technology
heralds new age for valley
Article Date: Nov 8, 2006 by David Burt, Staff Writer for Power County Press in American Falls, Idaho

Cutting edge technology
heralds new age for valley
   A quick glance at the online encyclopedia called Wikipedia will show that back in Victorian times inventors used an early form of optical fibers to illuminate water in public fountains.
   Who would have known that nearly 200 years later that that early art would revolutionize the world of communications? That such a seemingly simple parlor trick would one day allow an extraordinary amount of information to be transmitted around the world in the blink of an eye?
   Welcome to the world of fiber optics. Or, welcome to Rockland Valley, fiber optics.
   Late last October, Brigham Griffin, marketing director at Direct Communications in Rockland, took pictures as Rowan Barker and Scott Hendrickson installed fiber optics into his new home.
   “The new construction of my log home three miles north of Rockland was a good opportunity to introduce this technology to a residence here in Idaho,” Griffin said. “We (Direct Communications) didn’t have a copper line out to there, but we did have our main fiber optic line close by, which eventually runs to Pocatello and down to Bear Lake.”
   Griffin said there are residents building in the area as well, so Direct Communications will soon have more customers to serve.
   “We will be ready with state-of-the-art technology for the new homes in Rockland,” he said. “We have been using fiber optics for our backbone network for a number of years. We were one of the first companies in Idaho to use a digital switch and helped built the first statewide all fiber optic sonnet loop, which ties the entire state of Idaho together into a network that goes back to the national backbone.”
   One day, Power County residents will likely take fiber optics for granted as the technology expands to include even the rural areas in Idaho. For now, though, the experience was a landmark occasion as the installation of fiber optics was the first such installation to a private home in Rockland.
   “Not many telephone companies provide fiber all the way to the home yet,” Griffin said. “We just hooked up our first customer in Utah with fiber down in Eagle Mountain last month and were the first telephone company in Utah County to do that, so we thought it was time to try it in our little exchange here in Rockland.”
   What is fiber optics? Put simply, it is the ability to send vast amounts of data through small plastic tubes. How much data? According to Griffin, a lot.
   “The most important factor is bandwidth,” Griffin said. “The fiber line running to my home from the main cable contains just 12 strands of fiber, but those 12 strands could probably carry all the information in Idaho. So the capacity is huge. We have the ability to provide up to 100 MB per second to each home.”
   Is the installation of fiber optics expensive?
   “Today, the price of fiber optic cable has come down to the point where the cable itself isn’t anymore expensive than the traditional cooper (line),” Griffin said. “And, of course, at the same time cooper is increasingly expensive, with no hope of ever going down again.”
   The expense of installing fiber optics actually lies in other areas.
   “The real expense with fiber is in the electronics,” Griffin said. “The entire phone switch and head-end must be upgraded to support the new fiber network, and on the customer’s end, the box - we call it an NID, or Network Interface Device - that fits onto the outside of the home is very expensive because it’s a far more sophisticated system than the old copper devices.”
   Griffin said the possibilities included with the installation of fiber optics are amazing.
   “Fiber optics are the future of communications, and copper will someday max out on the bandwidth people need,” he said. “In the future, your telephone company will also be your cable company and all media will be delivered as Internet data.”
   Griffin said this has already happened in neighboring states.
   “Down in Provo (UT) for example, people are watching TV delivered over fiber as Internet packages. The advantage of this, of course, is that the possibilities for different content and the boundaries for broadcasting will be unlimited. Every person could someday broadcast their own TV station out of their home. Just call up Grandma and say change the channel to IP address such-and-such and watch your grandchild blow out her birthday candles.”
   One day, Rockland residents will have the opportunity to enjoy technology as never before.
   “As the existing copper (lines) near the end of its useful life, (Direct Communications) will eventually replace the entire network with fiber optics,” Griffin said. “The irony of this is that the tiny farming town of Rockland will have a far more advanced communications network than Boise or Pocatello.”
   Griffin said that that has actually been the case for some time now.
   “We have been ahead of the metro areas for many years, since we were one of the first phone companies to introduce a digital switch in Idaho, and had DSL in Rockland years before the larger national companies ever introduced it in Pocatello.”
   All this means that communication technology has certainly changed over the years.
   “In our office in Rockland we still have the original little Rockland phone switch on display,” Griffin said. “The current president, Leonard May, used to sit at that switch as a child, which was housed in his family’s own home, and act as the operator. He would manually change plugs around to switch the calls. An alarm would ring each time there was a call and somebody in the family would have to wake up to connect the caller.”
   May bought the company from his father in 1974 when there were approximately 300 subscribers. The company now serves over 10,000 customers with a range of communication products.
   So is Griffin happy to have fiber optics?
   “I am thrilled, because having fiber to my home is a great modern feature that will increase the functionality and value of my home,” he said. “Here in this little pocket in the hills is a showpiece of the future.”

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