Berks fiber optic: a network under construction


Berks Countians have long lamented their lack of choice in Internet providers, but in the western suburbs of Reading, there’s a new provider that’s establishing a game-changing position in at least a few zip codes.

In the fall, Wyomissing-based FastBridge Fiber LLC began building what it calls a “future-proof” all-fiber optic network that will provide lightning-fast Internet service to more than 7,000 homes and hundreds of businesses.

The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission has approved FastBridge’s application to serve as a competitive access provider under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Chief Marketing Officer Lynn Pope said construction of the network began in Bahar and Lower Heidelberg in October, and the first customers joined the service in late November.

Fiber optic cable is being laid in Whitfield for Fastbridge internet service. Angel Rodriguez, of Allentown, works for subcontractor A&Bee Underground, operating machines that install fiber optic cable along Yerger Boulevard and Brian Lane in Spring Township. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

The business will soon expand to Sinking Spring and Wyomissing, he said.

Fastbridge does not intend to provide landline phone services or cable TV, although customers will be able to subscribe to streaming services to watch programs on their televisions or other devices through a Wi-Fi connection, Pope said.

The company is marketing its service as competition to cable giant Comcast, which offers Internet services and cable TV programming under the Xfinity name.

Papa said Fastbridge is backed by equity financing from Guggenheim Investments clients. The new company, which has an office in Wyomissing, said it is committed to hiring and investing in the local communities it serves. The company is hiring sales and service employees.

Fiber optic cable is being laid in Whitfield for Fastbridge internet service.  Angel Rodriguez of Allentown works for Signs, a subcontractor advertising FastBridge fiber optic broadband Internet service, posted along Whitfield Boulevard and Jay Lane in Spring Township.  (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Fiber optic cable is being laid in Whitfield for Fastbridge internet service. Angel Rodriguez of Allentown works for Signs, a subcontractor advertising FastBridge fiber optic broadband Internet service, posted along Whitfield Boulevard and Jay Lane in Spring Township. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

Those interested in FastBridge Fiber service can visit the FastBridge Fiber Check Availability webpage to pre-register and be notified when their address becomes available for service.

Announcing the company’s launch in June, officials said it would provide “what is becoming America’s newest utility: ultra-fast Internet to support telecommuting, distance learning, streaming, cloud gaming and IoT (Internet of Things).” The latter term refers to computing devices embedded in everyday objects.

“FastBridge Fiber serves a powerful purpose; by connecting people, we enrich the communities we serve,” CEO Eric Warren said in a news release. “We’re excited to bring a brand new, superfast, fiber internet option to residents and businesses in an area that doesn’t have many options for broadband.”

In at least one municipality, officials are welcoming the new internet provider with open arms.

Wyomissing officials are reviewing the company’s local permit and insurance certificate, which is expected to continue daily, Borough Manager Michele Bare said.

“The district is very excited about FastBridge developing a high-speed fiber optic network not only for the district, but also for the surrounding areas,” he said.

Customers would benefit from competitive pricing and the network could spur economic development, Bare said.

The district is investigating the transition of its facilities to the network.

Bare said the need for fast, reliable internet service is evident in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when children are joining classes virtually and many adults are working from home.

Paul Prutzman, chairman of the Lower Heidelberg Township Board of Supervisors, said he understands FastBridge will focus on the township’s Route 422 corridor, primarily targeting commercial customers.

Berks County Commissioners Chairman Christian Leinbach said he met with FastBridge officials about a year ago when they expressed interest in coming to the county. As he understands it, the company is interested in building its network only in the suburbs of Berks, where cable service is available.

That means rural areas like Tilden Township, where Lenibach lives, won’t see FastBridge in the near future.

However, he said the installation of fiber broadband service was an exciting development, noting that fiber transmits data approaching the speed of light.

“Fiber is the place to be, so we’re excited,” he said.

Commissioners recently authorized $6.3 million in federal America’s Rescue Plan funds to implement broadband expansion strategies outlined in a network feasibility study they authorized nearly a year ago.

The county hired an independent contractor to conduct the study with funding from the Berks Alliance, United Way of Berks County and the Wyomissing Foundation. The study identified clear gaps in broadband infrastructure that directly impact residents, businesses and service organizations, among other findings and recommendations.

Getting broadband to every corner of Berks will involve multiple solutions based on existing technology and infrastructure, Leinbach said.



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