NEWTON, NJ—Over 100 residents from all over Sussex County gathered in the auditorium at Newton High School on Thursday, July 26 to attend the Fiber Optic Open Forum hosted by the Newton FIRST Varsity Robotics Team. The theme repeated often by citizens of the county was a call for more competition for CenturyLink to get better services. While representatives from both companies were present, relative newcomer, Plant Networks was also there to plead their case for increasing opportunities for consumers.

Residents from Andover Boro. Vernon, Fairview Lakes, Newton, Green, Byram, Augusta, Stanhope, Sussex Borough and Sandyston attended to hear from elected officials and voice their frustration with the current internet providers. More than 20 residents went to the podium to speak and ask questions of the panel assembled for the event.

The panel included Senator Oroho’s Chief of Staff Louis Crescitelli III, Service Electric’s IT Director James Galliford, Service Electric’s General Manager Robert Williams,and of Planet Networks Robert Boyle, CEO. Scott Hoppel from PenTeleData.was also in attendance.

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Newton Mayor Helen LeFois, Newton Police Chief Michael Richards, Newton Board of Education Business Administrator Fred Savio, Newton High School Principal Jeff Waldron as well as both of Newton’s IT staff Joseph and Patrick, and Byram Councilman Harvey Roseff were all on hand.

CenturyLink and a representative from Gottheimer’s office were invited to the event by the event organizer James Hofman but there was no one in attendance in the panel seat for them.  Hofman is the STEM teacher and robotics coach at Newton High School.

Hofman’s opening remarks about the “Faster Internet” opened the forum, thanking supporters and sponsors, Thorlabs’ Alex Cable, the Newton Board of Education and the Newton High School administrators for allowing them to host this community event. Hofman shared research by robotics team members who found internet providers to be an important contributing factor in people’s decision to move or purchase property.

“The average internet download speed in Newton is almost two-thirds slower than the average speed in New Jersey and less than half the national average speed,” Hoffman said.

On April 16, Newton’s FIRST varsity robotics team hosted Congressman Josh Gottheimer and the students showed and explained to him the slow speeds that many of the residents in Sussex County experience.

After Hoffman’s remarks and introductions of the Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) that were in attendance, each panel person spoke a little about who they are, what they do for their company and where they’re located in Sussex County.

Planet Networks introduced their company and gave a bit of background about themselves. The company was first founded in 1994, the name then was Garden Networks, but they found that limiting in the scope of residents they reached and so after a few additional name changes they settled on Planet Networks. Planet Networks said they installed fiber optic internet to every home, condo and business in the North Village of Ryan Homes in Sparta. They have access and continue to build out fiber in many other areas throughout Sussex County. Planet Networks’ CEO Boyle explained that it is an extremely long process to build out in any town due to regulatory shortfalls which create the opportunity for anti-competitive behavior.

In order to be able to install their fiber, the companies need permission of CenturyLink or Service Electric to attach to every pole owned by those companies. The glacial pace, fostered by current legislative requirements lead to increased costs when trying to build new infrastructure in  Sussex County.

The Town of Newton passed resolution 161-2019 at the July 8 meeting this year, which authorizes Public Right-of-way Use by Planet Networks for fiber optic cabling. This allows Planet Networks to use the public rights-of-way to place its telecommunication facilities, consisting of fiber optic cabling, aerially on existing and new utility poles and/or in underground conduit. The same was done in Sparta.

Some of the additional questions & comments by the residents were:

  • Why is the download speed of Service Electric so slow?
  • When will a new provider such as Service Electric or Planet Networks be working their way and offering services to people in Augusta or by Fairview Lakes?
  • Customer service issues were brought up multiple times by different residents

The robotics team along with Hoffman did some research on the ISPs that are available to the residents of Sussex County. The list below is listed as the provider with the base speed and monthly cost for Internet plans only. Speeds are listed as download/upload in megabits per second (mbit/s)

  • CenturyLink Telephone (VDSL): 5/.5 for $45/mo. To 60/5 for $55/mo. (available in Sussex County but not available in Vernon/McAfee [WVT] Byram/Hopatcong [VZ])
  • Optimum (Cable): 100/35 for $39.99/mo. (Montague, Sandyston, & Hopatcong)
  • Planet Networks (Fiber): Home Service: 100/100 for $49.95/mo., 300/300 for $74.95/mo., 500/500 for $89.95/mo., 1000/1000 for $109.95/mo., 10000/10000 for $495/mo. (available in parts of Sparta, Andover, Newton, Byram, Lafayette, and Hampton, but expanding to most areas over the coming months and years.)
  • Service Electric (Cable): 25/2 for $49.82/mo. To 150/15 for $104.42/mo. (all of Sussex county except Sandyston, Montague and Byram)
  • Warwick Valley Telephone (VDSL): 15/1 for $19.95/mo., 30/4 for $19.95/mo., 50/5 for $24.95/mo. And 75/10 for $29.95/mo. (Upper Greenwood Lake and Vernon only)

At the end of the event, both Planet Networks and Service Electric thanked all those who came out for attending and for the feedback they were given. Both companies agreed that events like these help them in helping those residents in Sussex County that they serve.