Fifteen years ago, the district of Wolfenbüttel had already recognised the need for ultra-fast fibre-optic Internet, that is, broadband Internet. But the large nationwide providers weren’t interested. So, the people of Wolfenbüttel sat down around a table and said to each other: ‘Then we’ll do it ourselves.’
Everything relies on the Internet today – and this holds true for private homes as well as businesses. At the beginning of the 2000s, the district of Wolfenbüttel realised that there was great potential in broadband Internet and that broadband coverage in rural regions was an indispensable factor in terms of location. We spoke with Peter Scheer from the district of Wolfenbüttel, who is a plant manager and is responsible for the broadband expansion project.
Mr Scheer, when the district and the municipalities approached the major German providers in the early 2000s regarding a fast fibre-optic network, you were turned away. Why?
They told us point-blank: ‘We will not be doing anything for you for the next ten years.’ The point is that laying a fibre-optic network incurs substantial civil engineering costs. Many providers shy away from such a construction risk. That didn’t help us, of course. After all, there are a hundred villages and neighbourhoods in this area that need to be supplied. Private individuals, entrepreneurs, the self-employed – how are they supposed to be competitive without high-speed Internet? So, we spent the next eight years fighting for a funding programme. But even with the maximum funding of one million euros, there wouldn’t have been any way of financing this ahead of time. We had to think bigger and turned to the state of Lower Saxony. There we were told that a new federal regulatory framework allowed us to carry out the civil engineering work ourselves. So, we sat down together and ran through the calculations. If we wanted to connect everyone, we would have to lay 280 kilometres of fibre-optic cable. We could then get a provider to join us who would ‘only’ handle the active technology.
That costs money...
It does indeed! Eleven million euros for building the network, three million in operating costs over 20 years and four million in financing costs. In short, that is 18 million over 20 years. Fortunately, politicians agreed to this ambitious project – because we don’t just want to secure jobs here, but also give entrepreneurs an incentive to settle in the region. And, of course, our citizens should also have a modern Internet connection, no matter for what purpose.
So, you got up the courage to go ahead with it.
Yes, because we were sure of what we wanted to do – and because everyone here really worked together. These fibre optic cables have to be laid like a giant spider’s web, at a depth of 80 to 120 centimetres. Of course, this will be easier if the farmers and foresters join in and allow us to lay some of cables below their land. And this can only be completed at an acceptable pace if you don’t have to write an application for a building permit for every single ditch. So we set up our own broadband operation business, and the head of this company is also the chief building director. This allowed us to avoid the paperwork that is typical in public authorities almost entirely, and we were able to do it all at quite a crazy speed.
And who is the provider now?
We issued a call for tenders. We tendered a 20-year contract and chose the best offer – the htp company from Hanover. I have to extend my thanks to them again, because they invested six million euros for all the technology themselves. And that was in a single year, even though we wanted to spread the total investment out over three years. htp really stepped on the gas.
When did the first ‘working’ connection go online?
It was in April 2013, shortly after construction began. We then added more and more finished connections, following the principle of the spider’s web.
And how fast are the networks?
For private customers, the speed is up to 100 mpbs for downloads and 40 mbps for uploads. It depends to a certain extent on how long the ‘last mile’ of the telecom copper cable is – and what state it is in. Business customers can request a downstream speed of up to 10 gbps if desired.
How many people have you ‘hooked up’ so far?
We have connected all of our schools, authorities and administrative entities with fibre optic cables. Apart from that, 9,769 out of 34,000 households, that is, just under 30 percent, are now running high-speed Internet (as of July 2017).
Your broadband concept is comprehensive and not only covers fibre optic cables but also the construction of hotspots. Can I surf online for free when I’m outside in the Wolfenbüttel district?
Yes, you can. We want to set up 25 hotspots in the Wolfenbüttel region. We are currently in the process of identifying the locations and will then move on to setting them up immediately. But this is only the beginning. In the foreseeable future, each of the one hundred villages in our region should have its own free hotspot.
What other plans do you have?
In addition to the hotspots, we are looking into ‘redensification’. Some households still have copper cables that are too long on the ‘last mile’, and we now want to hook these up to high-speed Internet. What’s more, we will automatically connect each newly developed area with fibre optics in the future – then it will be done properly.
The interview was conducted by our editorial staff in May 2017.
Current developments in the district Wolfenbüttel
Currently (as of March 2018) more than 10,000 customers in the district Wolfenbüttel already have broadband Internet. There are currently 10 HotSpots in the city of Wolfenbüttel. By the end of March, 25 areas throughout the district are to be supplied with HotSpots. In addition, Wolfenbüttel County has joined the HotSpot initiative of BS Energy, the city of Braunschweig and the telecommunications company htp GmbH. With this one-time registration, internet users can now use seven public HotSpots in Braunschweig as well as 25 HotSpots in the district of Wolfenbüttel.