Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Callabyte Prepares for Expansion into Wardsville, Missouri
Callabyte Technology, the Fiber-to-the-Home subsidiary of Callaway Electric Cooperative, recently announced a new expansion into the town of Wardsville (pop. 1,800), after strong interest by residents, businesses, and local officials. It marks just the latest in a succession to area communities exhibiting a strong demand for fast, affordable, reliable Internet access.
We covered Callabyte’s formation after its launch in 2015, when Callaway partnered with nearby King’s Telephone Cooperative to bring fiber service to members. The cooperative, which serves more than 13,000 electric meters, ran a successful pilot in one neighborhood in its electric footprint in 2015 and quickly expanded thereafter. 2016 saw growth to five surrounding areas, and was paired with an announcement that it would be expanding to the totality of the cooperative’s membership going forward. In July 2017, Callabyte celebrated its two-year anniversary as well as signing up its 1,100th subscriber. In 2018 the network doubled its projected size by adding a third build region, and announced a fourth large expansion to fill in the region coverage to be completed between 2019 and 2020.
Driven by Demand
Growth has been driven by strong demand. By September 2017, the network had 1,500 subscribers across 300 miles of main-line fiber. Just three short years later it served 4,700 homes and businesses, with more than 9,000 interested and registered for service.
Callabyte's efforts over the years have been boosted by federal funds designed to speed deployment and ease the cost of construction. In 2019 the network received just over $2.1 million from the FCC's Connect American Fund II (CAF II) auction to build service to about 1,500 locations new locations.
Recent expansion has also been driven in part by two state broadband grants: one in April 2020, where $335,000 was disbursed to help bring service to 241 new locations, and one in August via the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which would give the network $138,000 to quickly connect 50 unserved homes.
Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Tom Howard lauded the opportunities offered by the grants to the News Tribune last October:
It's kind of a win-win-win — and I include three wins because it's a win for the state of Missouri, which has been working diligently to expand high-speed Internet access into rural areas, it's a win for Callabyte because it increases our subscriber base and opportunity, and most importantly it's a win for the people.
The pandemic likewise prompted Callabyte to launch nine free public Wi-Fi locations with the onset of COVID, with the network announcing that “any time a school in our service area moves to distance learning for their students, we will increase the basic residential Internet package from 100 Mbps to 300 Mbps.”
Today, Callabyte Technology serves almost 5,000 homes and businesses. The network hasn’t increased residential prices in five years. Symmetrical 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) service costs subscribers $65/month, 500 Mbps service costs $75/month, and 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) service is $95/month. Callabyte also offers VoIP service and video packages. Lifeline service is available for qualifying households.
In a release today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it was voiding applications by two of the biggest Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) bidders from December 2020. This includes more than $885 million for Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) provider Starlink and more than $1.3 billion for LTD Broadband, Inc.
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance's (NDIA) expanded National Digital Navigator Corps is running its first round of awards, and will support new projects at 18 sites around the country (including six in Tribal communities) beginning in the second half of this year.
Freshly proposed legislation in Missouri would prohibit towns and cities from using federal funds to improve broadband access in areas telecom monopolies already claim to serve. It’s just the latest attempt by incumbent telecom giants to ensure that an historic wave of federal broadband funding won’t harm their revenues by boosting local broadband competition.