Detroit Rock(et Fiber) City: Startup brings 10Gb service to Motown

Muni project doubles as data-center linkups

Detroit skyline

A project born out of finance house Quicken Loans is making a push to bring broadband to the city of Detroit.

Rocket Fiber, which was launched by three former Quicken employees and still operates under its umbrella of companies, began feasibility studies in 2013, laying out cables a year later and finally launching as a commercial service in January of 2016.

The internet service promises to offer 10Gb/sec internet in the heart of a US city that became synonymous with economic decline in the late 20th century. It's now looking to rebuild itself in the 21st, with an eye on attracting new business into an economy that was once wholly dependent on the automotive industry.

That rebuild has left the city open to public-private partnerships, including the launch of Rocket Fiber's broadband network.

The story is not totally unique to Detroit. Other downtrodden US cities have sought to build out a fiber network as a way to attract new business and add jobs to the local economy.

Currently, Rocket Fiber service is limited to businesses and homes in Detroit's central business district, a small 3-square-mile commercial section of the city, whose total area is just under 143 square miles.

Plans call for an expansion into the midtown district, with aims on continuing the fiber network into other parts of Detroit as both a home and business internet service. A basic 1Gb plan costs $70 per month, and 10Gb service is $299 per month.

Since going live, Rocket Fiber execs say that the service has been adopted across the board in the business district, with customers ranging from retail clothing shops to larger enterprises with offices in the area.

"I think early on when the idea was submitted there was a lot of buzz and excitement, especially in the IT department," said cofounder and CTO Randy Foster.

"The biggest challenge was getting people looking at what the next step was."

That next challenge, says CEO Marc Hudson, will include offering TV services to the existing fiber-to-the-home packaging. Hudson also said that Rocket Fiber will look to separate itself from other carriers by focusing on customer service, offering perks such as exact service appointments (rather than window periods) and phone support operators who are trained to provide basic troubleshooting walkthroughs.

"We look at our industry as being fundamentally broken, both in the pricing and also the customer service side," Hudson said.

"I think it starts with our culture – we are service oriented, and our people that are working for us buy into that culture." ®

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