In an effort to get better broadband service to homes across Horseshoe Bay, the city’s broadband committee is trying to form an alliance among several entities.
The committee recently extended a contract to Northland Communications, which committee members hope will be signed in a matter of days, to bring it on board.
Committee member and City Councilor Frank Hosea, a retired executive at Time Warner Cable, explained the challenges and solutions in providing every home in Horseshoe Bay access to high-speed internet.
He noted the city is preparing to launch Phase I of a multiphase plan that involves Northland Communications and Zeecon Wireless Internet for Horseshoe Bay West residents.
“(Home broadband) is no longer a luxury,” he said. “It’s a utility.”
Currently, the way many Horseshoe Bay homes are getting broadband is via “point-to-multipoint” providers, which use antennas to send signals to home receivers. Those providers are Zeecon Wireless Internet and VGI Technology.
“They’re the only two the city has authorized in Horseshoe Bay,” Hosea said. “There are other providers in Kingsland and Granite Shoals, but they’re broadcasting across Lake LBJ. The problem with that technology is … you have interference and interruptions. Point-to-multipoint requires lines of sight. That’s why one neighbor can have service and another may not. That line of sight is blocked by a tree or a roof line from another house. But it’s the only short-term solution we have.”
Some residents simply use their satellites for broadband service, which is better than nothing, he added.
The committee’s plan calls for committing to partnerships and funding to improve broadband.
The council set aside money in the 2021 budget to purchase fiber and conduits, which are tubes that protect and route wiring. While Northland Communications will own the fiber, the city will own the conduits.
“If the city gets another cable or internet provider, I can give them access (to the conduit),” Hosea said.
The broadband committee is working with Northland Communications on a fiber solution for parts of Horseshoe Bay. The Escondido community contracted with Northland to provide fiber to those neighborhoods at their expense. The location of the Escondido community allowed for expansion of the fiber into Horseshoe Bay West. The city will fund the fiber extension from Escondido to the Caprock Clubhouse and the extension on Summit Boulevard to the water tower at Summit Rock Golf Course.
This will allow for expanded service options for residents in Horseshoe Bay West.
Zeecon Wireless Internet will be able to broadcast from the top of the Caprock Clubhouse, Hosea added, noting “it’s one of the highest points in Horseshoe Bay.”
“The Phase I construction will take 30 to 60 days, and we are targeting first quarter of 2021,” Hosea said. “Once this first phase is completed, additional opportunities will be explored to improve internet availability throughout Horseshoe Bay.”
The committee has asked Northland Communications for a five-year plan. Hosea said the city doesn’t have a way to maintain the broadband.
“What I want in return for the capital investment is a guarantee of additional capital expansions and upgrades, increased speed,” the councilor said. “In some areas, we get 5 megabytes (per second of download speed). We’d like that to increase to 25 megabytes to help with streaming and Zoom. We’re starting to go into telemedicine.”
The download speed for many homes in the city is 1 Mbps, which is acceptable for email and some basic functions, Hosea said, but not much else.
The biggest culprit is density of homes, the councilor said, noting that Horseshoe Bay has a fairly low density compared to other cities. This makes it economically challenging for internet providers to make big investments in the community and recoup those monies, he added
And that doesn’t begin to address the granite terrain in the western part of the city, the councilor said.
“Your construction costs are extremely high,” Hosea said. “It’s very difficult to attract anybody to come in and build in Horseshoe Bay. The reality is Horseshoe Bay would have to triple in size before it becomes attractive enough for a provider to go through the expense of digging up the streets.”
Through these partnerships, he hopes residents can get the broadband internet that’s become a necessity.