He wanted faster internet, Comcast wanted $50,000, so he made his own ISP

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Several years ago, senior network architect Jared Mauch had a problem: He wanted to upgrade his home internet service, but decent options weren’t available. Comcast actually told him it would cost $50,000 to extend its network to his house—far more than the $10,000 he was prepared to spend.

I live in a rural area myself, so I can relate. Internet service out in the sticks is expensive as hell, which doesn’t stop it from being generally crappy compared to all the gigabit options available to city folk. But whereas I just get mad and then pay the bill every month, consoling myself with the knowledge that at least I don’t have to put up with neighbors, Mauch had a different idea: He launched his own internet company, which according to Ars Technica has grown rapidly over the past couple of years and is looking to expand even further in the near future.

It wasn’t a cheap, anyone-can-do-it venture by any means. Mauch told Ars in January 2021 that he’d spent $145,000 on the project, much of it going to a contractor who installed the fiber contractors, although he did handle the more technical aspects of the job himself, including installing the fiber cables into the conduits. He also had to run two miles of fiber from his home to underground cable vaults owned by ACD.net, the network provider he purchases connectivity and bandwidth from.

But the effort is paying off. While Mauch has kept his day job, his ISP—Washtenaw Fiber Properties LLC—already has roughly 70 customers, and is looking to extend to nearly 600 more properties thanks to $2.6 million in funding courtesy of the US government’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program. Washtenaw Fiber Properties is one of four ISPs selected by Washtenaw County to bring broadband internet service to unserved locations. 

“They had this gap-filling RFP [request for proposals], and in my own wild stupidity or brilliance, I’m not sure which yet, I bid on the whole project [in my area] and managed to win through that competitive bidding process,” Mauch said.

Washtenaw’s prices are higher than those of major ISPs. Installation fees can run as high as $599 (and possibly higher, depending on distance from the road) while monthly rates go from $65 per month for 100Mbps service to $139 per month for 1Gbps. But again, that’s pretty reasonable for rural internet: If you want to live the pastoral life without giving up, you know, all this, you have to pay the price.

Mauch needs to add another 38 miles of fiber to the 14 miles he’s already run, in part because he’s working in such a sparsely populated rural area. Somewhat ironically, it sounds like Comcast’s $50,000 demand may not have been entirely outrageous: Mauch said that at least two of the homes he’s hooking up will require half-mile runs to reach, and it will cost “over $30,000 for each of those homes to get served.”

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