Jared Mauch, the Michigan man who built a fiber-to-the-home Internet provider because he couldn’t get good broadband service from AT&T or Comcast, is expanding with the help of $2.6 million in government money.
When we wrote about Mauch in January 2021, he was providing service to about 30 rural homes including his own with his ISP, Washtenaw Fiber Properties LLC. Mauch now has about 70 customers and will extend his network to nearly 600 more properties with money from the American Rescue Plan’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, he told Ars in a phone interview in mid-July.
The US government allocated Washtenaw County $71 million for a variety of infrastructure projects, and the county devoted a portion to broadband. The county conducted a broadband study before the pandemic to identify unserved locations, Mauch said. When the federal government money became available, the county issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking contractors to wire up addresses “that were known to be unserved or underserved based on the existing survey,” he said.
“They had this gap-filling RFP, and in my own wild stupidity or brilliance, I’m not sure which yet, I bid on the whole project [in my area] and managed to win through that competitive bidding process,” he said. Mauch’s ISP is one of four selected by Washtenaw County to wire up different areas.
Mauch’s network currently has about 14 miles of fiber, and he’ll build another 38 miles to complete the government-funded project, he said. In this sparsely populated rural area, “I have at least two homes where I have to build a half-mile to get to one house,” Mauch said, noting that it will cost “over $30,000 for each of those homes to get served.”
$55 a month for 100Mbps with unlimited data
The contract between Mauch and the county was signed in May 2022 and requires him to extend his network to an estimated 417 addresses in Freedom, Lima, Lodi, and Scio townships. Mauch lives in Scio, which is next to Ann Arbor.
Although the contract just requires service to those 417 locations, Mauch explained that his new fiber routes would pass 596 potential customers. “I’m building past some addresses that are covered by other [grant] programs, but I’ll very likely be the first mover in building in those areas,” he said.
Under the contract terms, Mauch will provide 100Mbps symmetrical Internet with unlimited data for $55 a month and 1Gbps with unlimited data for $79 a month. Mauch said his installation fees are typically $199. Unlike many larger ISPs, Mauch provides simple bills that contain a single line item for Internet service and no extra fees.
Mauch also committed to participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides subsidies of $30 a month for households that meet income eligibility requirements.
The contract requires all project expenses to be incurred by the end of 2024, and for the project to be completed by the end of 2026. But Mauch aims for a much quicker timeline, telling Ars that his “goal is to build about half of it by the end of this year and the other half by the end of 2023.” The exact funding amount is $2,618,958.03.
Comcast wanted $50K, AT&T offers just 1.5Mbps
Operating an ISP isn’t Mauch’s primary job, as he is still a network architect at Akamai. He started planning to build his own network about five years ago after being unable to get modern service from any of the major ISPs.
As we wrote last year, AT&T only offers DSL with download speeds up to 1.5Mbps at his home. He said Comcast once told him it would charge $50,000 to extend its cable network to his house—and that he would have gone with Comcast if they only wanted $10,000. Comcast demands those up-front fees for line extensions when customers are outside its network area, even if the rest of the neighborhood already has Comcast service.
Mauch was using a 50Mbps fixed wireless service before switching over to his own fiber network. In addition to his home Internet customers, Mauch told us he provides free 250Mbps service to a church that was previously having trouble with its Comcast service. Mauch said he also provides fiber backhaul to a couple of cell towers for a major mobile carrier.