The Beckville Network — DIY Fiber Innovation

By Russ Steele

Access to the VAST fiber optic network in Western Nevada County is . . . “what we need”

“I’m self-employed from a home office. Access to this broadband has improved my productivity immensely and reduced downtime. I often have to watch videos for research or shuttle large files to clients, and now I never have to worry about somebody else in the household (like my teenage son) using streaming services at the same time. We all get what we need.

Beckville Network Board Member

I learned about the innovative Beckville Network and it’s connection to the VAST fiber network in Nevada County from Peter Brown and Chelsea Walterscheid at the Sierra Business Council when Peter interviewed me for his Nevada County Broadband Strategic Plan Project. During the interview, he told me about a recent meeting he had with Mike McLaughlin, Beckville Network CEO. Mike is the lead innovator for the non-profit corporation that operates the network. 

Why a non-profit corporation? VAST will not provide service to an individual, only business or corporation. To gain access to the VAST fiber network required the formation of a formal business entity, in this case, a non-profit corporation.

I contacted Mike by email and he graciously agrees to an internet interview, which I have edited for length and clarity 

The Beckville Network is a fixed wireless network with a point of presence (POP) on the VAST Fiber network that follows Newtown Road west of Nevada City. The POP provides dedicated 200Mbps symmetrical access. From the POP the Corporation provides Wireless bi-directional services to 13 neighborhood households at speeds between 50 – 120 Mbps, with a latency of 12-15 ms, according to Mike.

Russ: How is the broadband distributed . . .?

Mike: “Our distribution is entirely fixed wireless. My house is the “main hub” and we have 2 other repeater sites, one is another member house, the other is on a members hilltop and is an entirely off-grid, solar powered, relay tower.”

Russ: Estimated start-up development costs and how was the development finances?

Mike: “We started up with 10 members for under $10,000. Joining members cover a share of the startup costs. We were able to bootstrap the network from the membership. “

Russ: The fee to join the network:

Mike: “The current fee is $500. This helps us buy all the necessary equipment and helps recoup some of the initial investment for the original members (who get paid back in lower cost service).” 

Russ: The average monthly user fees?

“$50-70. It is tiered based on when you joined and how many members we have. Our goal is $40-50/month once we have about 20 members.”

Russ: What is the growth potential?

Mike: “It’s limited by volunteer input.  Our goal right now is to get to 20 member households and then revisit our desire to continue growing. I believe this is a number where the monthly fees are low and the maintenance time and costs also stay low. One thing we have always had in mind was trying to inspire more local micro-ISPs and lend a hand where we can.”

Russ: What were the challenges in creating your non-profit corporation?  

Mike: “. . .There are definitely positives and negatives to the business entity. Doing it over again, I would at least consider a co-op model, especially if I wanted to try to grow it further. The non-profit was chosen primarily for the goodwill aspect, . .”

This project should inspire others to follow the Beckville Network model and learn from Mike’ experience. As he indicated above Mike is willing to help others form a micro-ISP. VAST has been very clear from the beginning they are not interested in working with individual users while providing access to businesses and corporations.

More of Nevada County can have access to a fiber optic network if they are willing to invest in the time and effort required to organize a neighborhood and create a corporate entity.  Mike and the Beckville Board of Directors have proven it can be done.  Let’s have less complaining about the lack of broadband access in Nevada County and more action!

5 thoughts on “The Beckville Network — DIY Fiber Innovation

  1. Mike McLaughlin August 19, 2019 / 6:34 pm

    Hi Russ,

    I thought I’d give a small update;

    We’re up to 17 member households, and still have kept it under $10k in equipment expenses.

    You’re definitely correct in the trees being a problem, but they can be both a blessing and a curse. A couple of our newest members were able to get access via placement in pine trees. Our shorter range and multiple micro-POP locations allow us better (hyper-local) coverage than the incumbent wireless – not to mention our vastly higher speeds at lower costs.

    At this point I’m firmly of the opinion there is room for a lot of fixed-wireless growth in our area leveraging newer technologies and the micro-POP model. A mixed fiber/wireless deployment could begin to solve our broadband problems in Nevada County. I hope SBC gives the grant money to a smaller scrappy startup who can make a lot of progress with the relatively small investment.

    On another note; I’ve heard there may be others interested in following our model or otherwise starting small ISP’s. Please feel free to point them my direction.

    Mike McLaughlin

    Like

    • Russ Steele August 20, 2019 / 9:36 pm

      Mike,
      Thanks for the update. I think your model has huge potential in all the Counties that have the VAST middle-mile fiber. I would like to see another project get started with the County investment, it would validate the model and provide more confidence to those considering a neighborhood network. Have you discussed your model with the Steve Monahan, County CIO? I think he would be very interested in your progress and lessons learned.

      Like

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