It’s summer but Shentel isn’t interested in fiber island hopping

Regional U.S. operator Shenandoah Telecommunications (Shentel) is staking out a number of new beachheads as it works to expand its fiber network, but operator representatives told Fierce it has no interest in island hopping. Instead, they said it plans to focus on building out a contiguous network, citing reliability and operational benefits.

Shentel last month announced plans to expand its network footprint into the state of Delaware. It is initially targeting more than 21,000 locations in Sussex County, with engineering in progress and construction expected to ramp in early 2023. Chris Kyle, Shentel’s VP of Industry Affairs and Regulatory, told Fierce the move is designed to secure a strategic foothold in an area where it sees “a ton of potential opportunity” as it works to reach 450,000 locations with its Glo Fiber service by 2026.

Its push eastward is notable given Shentel has primarily focused its expansion efforts in the states where it already operates. While Kyle acknowledged Delaware is new territory for Shentel, he pointed out it is contiguous to its existing footprint in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.

“Some of why we’re not in Nevada, for instance, [is because] we care about the continuity not just for how we’re moving work crews up front but how we’re going to run and operate this thing as the best network long term,” he said. “That is, from a network reliability, from a network redundancy and staffing point of view, something that we believe has been very important in our fiber-to-the-home strategy: adjacency and not islands.”

Stuart French, a Government and Community Affairs Specialist at Shentel, added the ability to staff its own routes makes coordination for repairs easier and means it doesn’t have to depend on third party middle mile providers to connect different islands.

As Shentel evaluates expansion targets, French said it’s focusing on higher-density tier 3 and tier 4 markets rather than larger cities. Kyle added that includes places like Hanover County, Virginia, which is just outside the state capital of Richmond but has more rural and agricultural roots. Though the county has benefitted from Richmond’s explosive growth, the telecom infrastructure there has lagged a bit. That makes it a perfect target for an operator like Shentel, Kyle said.

While it’s focused on smaller communities, French and Kyle said there are no hard and fast limits on the size of the builds it wants to pursue. French noted its existing fiber franchise agreements range from 351 locations on the low end to upwards of 20,000 on the high end.

Though it plans to fund its own core builds, Kyle said Shentel is also looking to layer in grant projects where it makes sense to flesh out its coverage in less dense areas. It’s already planning to reach around 30,000 locations using grant money, but Kyle said that figure could increase, noting a new grant cycle is set to begin in Virginia in August and additional cycles are ongoing in Maryland and West Virginia.