Tilson and Plenary Americas to Advance Communications Along PA Turnpike


Tilson, headquartered in Portland, ME and its CLEC affiliate, Tilson Infrastructure, with backing from New York-based SDC Capital Partners, has expanded its partnership with infrastructure investor and developer Plenary Americas in a joint venture known as Plenary Broadband Infrastructure (PBI). 

PBI will maintain, operate, and commercialize fiber network infrastructure for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. PBI was recently awarded the 276-mile western route of the PA Turnpike from the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg to the Ohio border. The network will provide connectivity for the Commission’s administrative buildings and offices, maintenance buildings, tolling systems, Intelligent Transportation Systems, and other commercial sites and applications. 

The western route extension will connect to the previously awarded eastern route of the PA Turnpike bringing contiguous network coverage that spans the state. In October 2021, Tilson and PBI were selected to operate, maintain, and commercialize Phase 1 of the communications network along a 220-mile stretch of the PA Turnpike that extends from the Susquehanna River east to the Delaware River. Phase 1 is nearing completion and will activate in spring of 2023. Phase 2 on the Turnpike’s Northeast Extension (I-476) to Scranton will activate early 2024. Work on the western network is expected to be completed in late 2025.  

From end to end, the PBI network will have multiple microducts capable of carrying 288-count fiber each, accessible every 2,500 feet via junction boxes and supported by in-line amplification huts every 50-60 miles.

The new network will have capacity to fulfill a number of middle-mile transport requirements for high-speed broadband access in underserved communities, rural internet service providers, regional and national wireline and wireless carriers, John Gary, Tilson Infrastructure Carrier Sales Director explained in conversation with Inside Towers. He added that state highway departments like the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission see a growing requirement for high-speed connectivity to support new Intelligent Transportation Systems.

With a lot of cell towers built close to the Turnpike, Gary says they can run fiber to the tower where none exists today or the existing fiber needs to be upgraded. “The sweet spot for a lateral to the tower is about 1 mile,” he says. Gary points out that enhanced fiber connectivity is needed for backhaul to cell sites at service centers along the Turnpike.

PBI is offering high fiber count dark fiber along the route as well as lit 1 Gbps (1G), 10G or 100G leased wavelength services for commercial and government applications. Wavelength services connect the PA Turnpike fiber route at Plymouth Meeting to the key 401 North Broad data center in downtown Philadelphia. These links initially use other carriers’ fiber already in place until Tilson can pull its own cable, Gary explains.

He points out that the new eastern route from Harrisburg to Plymouth Meeting that connects to Scranton in the northeast offers a critical diversity route for connections between data center concentrations in Ashburn, VA, and New York where almost all of the current fiber routes follow I-95. As well, hyperscale data centers in Ohio will now have an efficient fiber network to connect to the east coast data center markets, Gary added.

By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor

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