Hidden among stories of small town decline are places like Tuttle, Oklahoma, a city of more than 7,000 which has continued to grow in defiance of the dominant narrative. Tuttle, located about 30 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, has experienced a “53 percent increase in residential growth since 1990,” and within the next ten years, city officials expect Tuttle to nearly double in size.
However, connectivity wasn’t keeping pace with Tuttle’s growth. Most people were stuck with slow DSL or even slower fixed wireless Internet access. After existing providers demanded massive subsidies to connect the city, Tuttle decided in 2017 to build its own gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. By choosing municipal ownership, Tuttle City Council has ensured that all residents and businesses will have access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity now and well into the future.
Public Ownership Solution to Poor Connectivity
After the city’s cable provider shut down ten years ago, many Tuttle residents were left with no access to high-speed broadband. “The local WISP [wireless Internet service provider] was the only option for most offering, at best, 3 Mbps speeds during non-peak times,” Tuttle City Manager Tim Young shared in an email. Some people in the city’s downtown also had access to slightly faster DSL from AT&T, but neither provider was upgrading or investing in its network.
The lack of fast, reliable broadband impacted the city’s ability to retain new residents. Young explained that newcomers would sometimes leave Tuttle after only two or three years because of poor connectivity.
For years, the city attempted to partner with private Internet access providers, including the incumbent WISP, to expand broadband access but to no avail. “No one was willing to serve the entire community without substantial cash infusions from the taxpayers,” said Young.
Ultimately, the city decided to create its own FTTH network, Tuttle Fiber, which is owned by the Tuttle Development Authority, an entity established for the project. “If the City will be required to infuse significant cash resources to construct a true fiber-to-the-premises system, then the City should in fact own and operate the system,” Young described city council’s reasoning. Public ownership ensures that everyone in Tuttle will have access to high-speed connectivity that isn’t at risk of disappearing if a private company shutters or gets sold.
Tuttle Fiber Network Details
Tuttle began deploying fiber in 2017 after a couple of years of consideration, during which city officials visited fiber networks owned by the city of Sallisaw and Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative.
The Tuttle Fiber network will connect all of the city, except for a small portion that already has access to fiber from Pioneer Telephone Cooperative. According to Young, network construction will cost approximately $10 million, which Tuttle is funding through local bank financing. The city expects to finish deployment by early 2020 — 2.5 years earlier than planned. More than 500 homes are already connected.
Though Tuttle doesn’t have its own municipal electric department, it does offer water, natural gas, and waste water services. Much of the fiber deployment has been underground along the city’s existing Rights-of-Way. Aerial fiber will be moved underground as streets are opened up as well, making the fiber network even more resilient in the face of Oklahoma’s ice storms and tornadoes.
Tuttle Fiber offers Internet access only — no voice or video services. “Definitely in this day and age, you don’t need to provide those services,” Young said. “We just want to be that pipeline.”
Residential subscribers have three symmetrical tiers to choose from:
- 25 Mbps for $65 per month
- 50 Mbps for $80 per month
- 1 Gbps for $99 per month
New subscribers must contribute $240 dollars (either all at once or spread out over 24 months) toward installation costs, but there are no contracts and wireless routers are included in the fees.
“Wish We Would Have Made This Decision Years Ago”
Tuttle is pleased with its decision to move forward with a fiber network. “At first, this seemed like a daunting task,” reported Young. “Now that we are operating, we wish we would have made this decision years ago.”
Residents are happy too, despite having doubts at the beginning. Young explained:
“Initially, there was quite a bit of skepticism the city could construct a reliable system. Once the first customers were connected in October 2017, word quickly spread that the system works, it is fast, and it is reliable. Now, we cannot finish constructing the fiber network fast enough.”
Currently, the take rate is around 60 percent in connected areas, exceeding expectations.
Multiple nearby communities have expressed interest in annexing because of Tuttle Fiber, the only network of its kind in the region. “Tuttle will be the first community in the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area,” Young shared, “to claim every home and business will have access to 1 gig speeds, regardless of the Internet service provider!”
Photo credit Tuttle website.