A three-year-old company based in the Northwest called Fatbeam has an uncommon business model that seems to be working for the company. As Fatbeam Co-founder and President Gregory Green explained in an interview, the company installs fiber throughout smaller markets such as Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Yakima, Wash. after first obtaining a commitment from the local school district to use the fiber. The company also makes sure to connect to the closest Internet point of presence and to run fiber through the towns’ business district, then sells connectivity on a wholesale basis to other providers, who use the infrastructure to deliver Internet service and in some cases to support fiber-to-the-home deployments.
“Tier 3 and Tier 4 markets in the Northwest and Rocky Mountains had been missed in terms of true telecom infrastructure because of the telecom meltdown,” observed Green. Fatbeam’s approach, he said, is “We build a fiber network for the school district that helps fund construction, then we layer on hospitals, municipalities, governments and people who need large capacity.”
The company targets communities with populations between 20,000 and 100,000 where the incumbent carrier has not made significant infrastructure investment. The incumbent carriers that Fatbeam encounters most frequently are CenturyLink and Frontier, Green said.
Green, who has previous experience with several competitive local exchange carriers, founded Fatbeam with Shawn Swanby, who also founded Ednetics, a company that specializes in educational technology. The idea for Fatbeam came about when Swanby told Green that “If I could get fiber between schools, I could create opportunities for Ednetics and Fatbeam.”
The latest Fatbeam project to get underway is in Butte, Montana, where the company will deliver 2 Gbps capability to 14 school district locations and will also connect Montana Economic Revitalization and Development Institute. MERDI is buying long-term leases on dark fiber, which it hopes will support new business for the community, which could include call centers, healthcare companies, or other companies. Butte got its start as a mining town and although that business has declined, another opportunity might be to attract companies exploring new mining options, said Green.
It was interesting to talk to Fatbeam just a few weeks after President Obama announced a goal of bringing 1 Gbps service to the vast majority of U.S. schools. Many schools cannot just order up 1 Gbps service. Instead someone will need to bring fiber to (or at least close to) the building – potentially opening up opportunities for companies like Fatbeam.
“That was great news to us,” said Green about Obama’s new initiative, dubbed ConnectED. “Any further development along the lines of government driving demand is certainly OK with us.”