Would you buy your own fiber equipment? NFINET banks on it.
Back in May I was contacted by NFINET (or at least their PR firm,) a company that is deploying single-strand homeowner-owned fiber optic internet service to homeowners to need to receive high speed internet access without throttled or degraded speeds. It was deploying in Indiana in the press release I received, and I had some questions for the company.
TL;DR – pay up front to build dedicated fiber to house, up to 30 year fee-free guarantee, maintenance included, limited market reach most likely not near you, some questions to ponder.
Single strand fiber optic means rather than sharing off a fiber switch in your area that’s plugged into the network and probably over-subscribed, you’re bypassing the neighborhood oversubscription model and mainlining it into the internet (or you’re plugging into an undersubscribed local switch that’s been financed well enough to not be oversubscribed.)
Most ISPs make the calculation that if we have 30 customers at a gigabit each we’re probably never going to need more than a total capacity of about a gigabit or two for all of them on the neighborhood switches because they’re not all at full blast all the time, and we can upgrade later after enough people complain about service.
Few people other than Android Blog editors ever use a full gigabit, but when everyone comes home to their neighborhoods to stream whatever the latest movie or event that hit the internet, we find our bandwidth choking.
For speed reference, a Netflix “4K” stream is 25mbit meaning you could have about 40 TVs watching Netflix 4K in a house before you ran out of bandwidth on 1 gigabit. This is why most people don’t need even one gigabit. This is why these 2 gigabit advertisements for your household with 5 tablets (10 mb at most,) and a kid watching Netflix (25) and one on an Xbox (18) make me want to throttle people.
NFINET claims to accomplish this this unthrottled full blast internet by charging up front so they can pay for the services required before they’re needed on an oversubscribed system. The homeowner covers the cost of install, which from my days working at an ISP I recall being very costly just to pull pole permits.
The build out having been financed, the back end internet is fee-free to the homeowners for some amount of time (30 years in the press release I got.)) Running an internet/bandwidth doesn’t cost a lot, it’s the maintenance and physical infrastructure, and a large part of other people being problems that will kill you and jack prices up.
I asked whether maintenance is covered – such as when someone takes out a pole and snaps the fiber optic cable, considering the homeowner is the owner of it are they having to pay to have it covered? The answer was that they paid for all maintenance.
As your internet is only as fast as the slowest part connected, I asked what guarantees are in place for the back end. The response was that while it was not dedicated on the back end, there was abundant capacity in place. Yes, that’s not an answer I love having worked for an ISP that straight up lied about bandwidth, redundancy, and even the coke machines.
What are the guarantees that if a homeowner builds this fiber service that they’ll have internet (do they have a bankruptcy contingency?) – thinking very much of a Long Island ISP that did lifetime access, then limited lifetime access, then went under leaving people with a lot out of pocket because it ended up being a pyramid scheme, inadvertently.
We use funds for only two reasons: building the network without any debt, and funding an endowment that is professionally managed at arm’s length. Only the ongoing fixed maintenance costs per customer will be distributed for managing the service and network. Should the company need to sell the assets, the proceeds would be distributed to the homeowners of the pro-rata remaining amount for what was paid. We understand that is a huge and real concern. That is why we operate without debt and create an endowment fund to manage in an ongoing basis.
For the average homeowner, do you have any examples where the shared use case was slow? Most home users I know couldn’t tell the difference between 200 meg and gigabit, and I’ve never seen a shared gig fiber connection dip under 600mbit, at least in my market.
In our market and the markets we will be serving, the networks have significant lag and are heavily oversubscribed on their bandwidth. Even the gig offerings are testing and performing significantly less than the advertised speeds. Our users and market is full of workers who split between home and office (even before Covid) and their need for symmetrical speeds is very high.
Note that the press release I initially got on this mentions that the physical infrastructure of the connection makes it nearly impossible to intercept or tamper with, leading to enhanced privacy.
What are the guarantees of back end service to the internet? What peering partners are in place or planned? Since it’s mentioned, are there any actual cases where a shared fiber connection has been intercepted or tampered with in such a way as to actually do anything?
We have in our service agreement that we will pay the customer if service does not meet defined standards. We have peering in place through our data center. It is not possible to intercept and then tamper with the service. If a strand is cut we will know its location and there are several separated layers of security that prevent tampering, access to customer data or influence their service.
Paul takes a detour
A side story of lifetime ownership – in 1997 or 98 in Long Island I signed up for a lifetime internet connection with a company called removedthename. This was during the days where you called the internet via modems and tied up a phone line to connect. The business model was they kept getting new customers and they’d keep buying more equipment and lines and you’d pay for the purchase of equipment and some to the cost of maintenance and… yeah, that lasted as long as it could – there was no way to support that as the user base had to keep growing and growing, and it stalled. New offerings, cable internet, less expensive
I watched my lifetime dial up internet go away. I’m not sure when that happened because I’d jumped over to cable internet at that time and was busy running an internet radio station called The Eclectic iLL (caps because people kept thinking we were the electric 3, and not because I’m trying to be font-see or l33t.) By 2017 my lifetime removedthename email was also gone as their remaining email servers broke down and I was one of 6 people using it still.
An email I’d relied on for things like Reddit, a bank account, and an authentication key were gone.
I’m not dissing them as a note, it was an unsustainable project going in and I knew it. 20 year email being lost however was something to dish on them about.
The question always becomes your need here. I’m not familiar with permitting processes for pole access in Indiana, that’s not my stomping grounds. But I’m guessing this expenditure is going to be in the nice new car neighborhood, and then you’re betting on the company to succeed, manage to last the 30 years without filing for bankruptcy, and most importantly, and more likely here – not kick you off for abuse of service.
That last part’s my biggest worry when you’re looking at long term investments. What abuse of service?
What if you happen to go somewhere, say on vacation to visit relatives for the first time in a couple of years, and when you get back you find that your network was compromised and has been doing some illegal stuff. Just spitballing here, it’s not like I’m getting 50+ day old DMCA notices from when I was in Oregon because someone walked in and used my work’s internet to download Mare of Eastown.
Network operations will kick you. They’re going to be required to. An ISP has to respond, even if it’s in a monolithic slow moving fashion. What if your kid livestreams their naked underage butt and gets you shut down for kiddy porn. Your neighbor who you loaned your password to set up a terrorist website. Your computers became part of a botnet. Etc.
You’ve invested a lot in a line. Similarly NFINET would have invested a lot in their network and have to protect it for their other pre-paid customers.
With Comcast, AT&T, whatever your local gig operator is they kick you, you return the equipment, you get a new ISP. With NFINET my assumption is there might be a slight refund for the no-fee portion of the cost, but most of that cost is going to be your single strand install.
NFINET pushing an interesting concept. Owning a part of the pre-paid debt free network. Being in it with all the other customers as opposed to being against the other customers who are screwing up your Netflix at 5.
I’d assume they have a much better contingency plan than my lifetime dial up (really, once again, not dogging on my old ISP,) but you should realistically plan for a much more limited scope “lifetime” – is the internet going to be wires and fiber in 10 years, or will we be on electric lines and satellites? Will 6G become all of the internet? Will the brain slugs replace TCPIP v6?
Things to ponder.
On a final note here – I’m not invested in this company one way or another. This concept just interested me.
Charles W Florance, Chief Executive
Charlie was an infantry officer before he retired from the US Army in 2013. He then went to business school at Notre Dame and started The Indiana Whiskey Company in South Bend, disrupting national alcohol brands with hometown ingenuity. He was the distillery’s president for 8 years and is currently its board chairman. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he founded NFINET in 2021 with hopes of giving Hoosiers a compelling alternative to national providers.
Benjamin R Miller, Chief Operating Officer
Ben was already a seasoned entrepreneur before going to Notre Dame’s MBA program in 2012; business school only helped grow his appetite for leading new ventures. After graduation, he was a cofounder and board member at AgenDX, a venture-backed technology company. Then he started a career in fiber optics in 2016. He was the Director of Business Development and Strategy at ChoiceLight, then founded and led Pyrsia, a fiber optic consulting company focused on municipal-level architecture and network management.