Construction of an all-fiber network by FastBridge Fiber began in Spring Township in late fall and will expand to surrounding communities in Reading’s western suburbs, officials say.
Berks Countians have long lamented the lack of choice of internet service providers, but there’s a new provider establishing a foothold in Reading’s western suburbs that figures to be a game-changer, at least in a few ZIP codes.
In the fall Wyomissing-based FastBridge Fiber LLC began construction of what it calls a “future-proof” all-fiber-optic network that will make lightning-fast internet service available to more than 7,000 homes and hundreds of businesses.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approved FastBridge’s application to provide service as a competitive access provider under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Construction of the network began in October in Spring and Lower Heidelberg townships, with the first customers hooking up to service in late November, said Lynn Pope, chief marketing officer.
Work will soon expand into Sinking Spring and Wyomissing, she said.
Fastbridge isn’t seeking to provide landline telephone services or cable television, though customers will be able to subscribe to streaming services to watch programs via Wi-Fi connection to their TVs or other devices, Pope said.
The company is marketing its service as competition to cable giant Comcast, which offers internet services as well as cable television programming under the Xfinity name.
Pope said Fastbridge is supported by equity financing from Guggenheim Investments clients. With an office in Wyomissing, she said, the new company is committed to hiring and investing in the local communities it serves. The company is hiring sales and service associates.
Those interested in FastBridge Fiber service may visit the FastBridge Fiber Check Availability webpage to preregister and to be notified when their address is available for service.
In announcing the launch of the company in June, officials said it would provide “what has become America’s newest utility: ultra-fast internet to support remote working, distance learning, streaming, gaming cloud connectivity and the IoT (Internet of Things).” The latter term refers to computing devices embedded in everyday objects.
“FastBridge Fiber serves a powerful purpose; enriching the communities in which we serve by connecting people,” CEO Eric Warren said in the news release. “We are excited to provide a brand-new, very fast, fiber internet option to residents and businesses in the area who have not had many choices for broadband.”
Officials in at least one of the municipalities are embracing the new internet service provider with open arms.
Wyomissing officials are reviewing the company’s local permit and certificate of insurance and are expected to give the go-ahead any day, Borough Manager Michele Bare said.
“The borough is definitely excited about FastBridge developing their high-speed fiber optic network, not just for the borough but the surrounding area,” she said.
Customers will benefit by competitive pricing, and the network could spur economic development, Bare said.
The borough is exploring switching over its facilities to the network.
Bare said the need for fast, reliable internet service became evident during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when children were connected to classrooms virtually and so many adults were working from home.
Paul Prutzman, chairman of the Lower Heidelberg Township Board of Supervisors, said his understanding is that FastBridge will be focusing on the Route 422 corridor of the township, which means it will target primarily commercial customers.
Berks County Commissioners Chairman Christian Leinbach said he met with FastBridge officials about a year ago when they first expressed interest in coming into the county. His understanding is that the company is only interested building its network in suburban areas of Berks that have existing cable service.
That means rural areas like Tilden Township, where Lenibach lives, won’t see FastBridge for the foreseeable future.
Still, he said, the installation of fiber broadband service is an exciting development, noting that fiber transmits data approaching the speed of light.
“Fiber is the place to be, that’s why we’re excited,” he said.
The commissioners recently authorized the allocation of $6.3 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to implement broadband expansion strategies identified in a network feasibility study they authorized about a year ago.
The county hired an independent contractor to conduct the study with funding support from the Berks Alliance, the United Way of Berks County and the Wyomissing Foundation. Among other findings and recommendation, the study identified clear gaps in broadband infrastructure that directly impact residents, businesses and service organizations.
Leinbach said getting broadband to every corner of Berks will involve multiple solutions based on available technology and infrastructure.
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