Raul Alcaraz, CEO of Race Communications, our fiber internet service provider, was on hand at today’s Board meeting to answer questions from a number of residents.
The theme of the meeting seemed to be miscommunication and misconceptions, so let me start off by doing my part in trying to dispell some misconceptions I heard from residents, and along the way I’ll get into a status update.
Some people seemed to think that the network, including all customer home installs, should have been completed by the end of this year. That was never, ever envisioned. The backbone network, the fiber to the curb part of the network, was expected to be completed by the end of this year (ie. in 4 weeks), and that, in fact, is what is occurring. Initial home customer installs were projected to be ongoing to at least late summer 2020, if not longer.
However, customer home installs have been lagging, which I pointed out a month ago. Race seems to have fixed some things because the latest information that was given today is that 120 homes have now been connected, meaning the installation rate has more than doubled from their historical trend in the past month.
The other good news is that six zones have been released for orders. That’s zones 1 through 6 from this map. If your house is in these six zones, you can order service NOW by filling out this order form. DO NOT WAIT. Don’t expect a call based on previous filling out the expression of interest form. The important form is that Order form. If you’re in zones 7, 8, 9 (Pine, Cypress, and Birch zones), the form won’t allow you to order.
For those (like me) who are in the last three zones, the really really good news is that Race expects these zones to be ready for orders by Christmas. Personally, I’m going to be typing in my address in that order form every couple of days. I might even write a program to do so (I’m kidding, I think).
Race is a Utility – Treat Them As Such
I heard some odd things at today’s meeting. People seem to think that Race is some sort of pet contractor they should be able to boss around. They are not. They are an independent utility that has been granted an exclusive renewable ten year contract to provide Internet service on the RSFA fiber network.
If AT&T were to come around and dig a trench to lay their conduit for phone service, would you tell them to hold up a second because you’d like to use that trench for something else as well? They’d laugh in your face (respectfully, of course).
Race requires new customers to provide their SSN. This is standard operating procedure for most utilities. You are not legally required to provide your SSN, but then Race is not legally required to provide you service.
If you want to use your Internet fiber trench for something else, I’d strongly recommend hiring your own contractor to dig and install the trench and conduit yourself before Race even shows up for the site survey. Like all construction workers, Race installers are fast and efficient at what they do, but don’t ask them to do something different, it just won’t work.
If you can’t give a utility your SSN, then Race does offer business service (at a higher price) if you have an operating business.
As I stated in my last article, I didn’t believe that Race was intentionally dragging their feet to eek out a slightly higher profit on their installation procedures. I only mentioned that contract provision in a fit of frustration. I was annoyed that between the Association, Race and Race’s construction company, HP Communications, they were not able to increase home installation rates.
Raul Alcaraz was very contrite in today’s meeting explaining that they had made a process mistake in the first several months of installations. Our network is unique, not only for Race, but for any ISP. The Association owns the fiber backbone while customer drops are built and paid for by the homeowner. This is not normal. Race made the assumption that their construction partner, HP Communications, would entirely handle customer construction. However HP is not set up for individual homeowner communications (they normally enter into large construction contracts like our backbone), so the ball got dropped repeatedly in the first several months of installs.
Race has rectified this problem and is now coordinating all home owner construction and installation from start to finish. To that end, please only use 1-800-640-9436 and firstname.lastname@example.org when communicating with Race.
Are We Paying for TV?
One of the concerns I heard today was that the Association was paying for this network, yet the TV offering wasn’t as comprehensive as, for example, DirecTV. There are two items here, the TV offering itself and who is paying for it.
Race TV was originally built for smaller suburban homes in their other service areas. DirecTV, on the other hand, has versions meant for 50 screen commercial accounts, so it can handle pretty much anything. Race TV tops out at five TVs in a house. If you have eight TVs in your house, then Race TV is probably not going to work for you.
The Association has not paid for anything and owns nothing related to Race TV or the Race phone service. These are Race offerings exclusively. Race owns and paid for all the equipment needed to offer these services.
So if Race TV is not appropriate for you, don’t sweat it, DirecTV is a fine TV service. I hope to soon publish an article describing the TV landscape in much more detail since there are now a lot of options to choose from, Race TV being only one of them.
Conduits and Construction
Someone today asked whether you had to have the fiber installed all the way to and into the house. Could you instead use existing coax or Cat 5 or 6 wire to get to the street? The answer is no. Fiber terminates at a powered device and Race’s fiber termination equipment is meant to be installed indoors in a conditioned environment. Having that final termination point being inside a garage is as far as I would push it, and even then only because our climate is mild.
Some people want to use an existing conduit that has existing wire(s) that will either continue to be used or the wire(s) will be used as a pull wire. You sometimes see this when people have to go under large driveway surfaces or under ornamental walkways. Race can use old conduits, but it is expensive in itself. Using a partially filled old conduit is just plain risky since you don’t really know how difficult it will be until you try to use it.
If at all possible, I would recommend people create a new trench and install a brand new conduit just for your fiber. Race, of course, will provide this service, or you can hire your own contractor. Undermining a 6′ to 8′ wide walkway is not too difficult for a landscaper (you can do it with a steel digging bar and a pressure washer to erode a pathway for a 3/4″ conduit easily enough). Race has specifications if you install your own conduit, and I put together a video tutorial for it. Doing it yourself (or with your own contractor) allows you to more easily do odd things like use the trench for multiple purposes.
Site Survey Day
This appears to be the biggest pain point for both Race and homeowners. Once you get to order your service (see above, Order Now), Race will call you/email you to schedule a site survey.
You should have your landscaper AND your AV or IT consultant present for the site survey. If you don’t have an IT consultant, then ask a technical friend questions until you have it clear in your mind what you might want. My professional background is in data communications, and I would be more than happy to answer any questions you might have if you don’t have an IT consultant (just email me at email@example.com. I’m probably going to regret this, aren’t I?).
Anyways, the point is to be prepared and have all people that might possibly have an opinion on the installation be present. Following the site survey, Race will send you an installation contract with a price. Changing your mind on anything related to that contract will unfortunately push you to the back of the queue as they move onto installing other customers. So really try to get your ducks in a row before the site survey.
I was very happy about what I heard at today’s meeting. Installation rates have more than doubled in the last month even as they have a bit more to go. Race both acknowledged and fixed communication issues related to installation. And the last three zones (and ironically the ones that have the crappiest current Internet service) will be able to sign up for service within the month, earlier than I had anticipated.