AUBURN — The year ahead will be a busy one for Auburn Essential Services, the Auburn Common Council heard this week.
It will include the start of residential service in Garrett and updated equipment for Auburn home customers, said Chris Schweitzer, manager of the city-owned broadband utility.
This year will be “a significant time of investment in growth in our system for our subscribers,” Schweitzer said.
Auburn Essential Services offers internet, phone and video services for home and business customers.
“We’re deploying a brand-new video system starting this year that will kind of revolutionize … the way people watch TV today,” Schweitzer said in his annual report to the council.
The utility will spend approximately $750,000 to upgrade its distribution network in a “massive undertaking” lasting 2-3 years, Schweitzer said. He expects to start deployment of improved in-home equipment with new customers before continuing with existing subscribers.
“We’re going to be offering some new products, as well, based on this network that we’re deploying,” he said.
Customers have been asking for managed wireless service, and that will be offered as a subscriber choice, he said.
“The latest and greatest in terms of wireless technology” will become available, he said.
The system will be “ready to support the internet of things, smartphones, security systems, cameras … smart thermostats,” said Scott Bowles, president of Spectrum Engineering of Auburn, a consultant to AES.
“This is a new area that the demand’s been growing and surging, and we’ll be able to do it, I think, quite well,” Schweitzer said.
In Garrett, Auburn Essential Services began offering fiber service in the business district in 2015, Schweitzer said.
This spring, AES will begin a design for construction of fiber through the Garrett community, he said.
“We will see some residential areas that they will target to begin with” in Garrett, Bowles said. That will lead to a “methodical roll-out” of residential service over 2-3 years.
A thorough cost-of-service study will result in an updated pricing plan that will be presented to the council later this year, Schweitzer said. It will include new managed-wireless and smart-home options.
Auburn Essential Services connected with its first customer, Cooper Standard Automotive, in 2005. It added video service seven years ago.
The utility completed extension of fiber service to residential areas of its Auburn territory in 2014, Schweitzer said. Since then, its customer count has been growing at a rate of about 17 percent per year to reach “several thousand,” he said. He did not reveal a precise number of customers.
In recent years, Auburn Essential Services has extended its reach to customers south of Auburn in the areas of Lakewood Park Christian School, the DeKalb County Airport and the Bear Creek and Diamond Lakes housing additions.
Its staff has grown to 18 employees in customer service, engineering, logistics, field crews and installers.
The financial position of Auburn Essential Services is very strong, with healthy revenue and a good cash position, which has allowed it to reinvest in improvements over the last several years, Schweitzer said.