Cullman Electric Cooperative Launches Next Phase Of Fiber Expansion

Cullman Electric Cooperative logo

Cullman, Alabama-based Cullman Electric Cooperative says it is launching a new phase of fiber deployment after receiving a $7 million grant to bring affordable fiber access to long-neglected Cullman and Winston counties.

The financing was made possible by the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund (ABAF), funded by the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The state has already dedicated more than $82 million in funding for Alabama broadband deployments, bringing broadband access to 72,000 currently unserved residents.

Cullman Sprout Fiber Internet logo

Cullman’s $7 million portion will bring affordable fiber access to 1,300 families. Known as Sprout Fiber Internet, Cullman currently offers residential customers symmetrical 300 Mbps (megabit per second) service for $60 a month; symmetrical 1 Gbps (gigabit per second) service for $80 a month, and symmetrical 2 Gbps service for $120 a month.

That’s significantly faster and cheaper service than is currently offered by any of the dominant private telecom monopolies in Cullman (predominantly AT&T or Charter/Spectrum), without usage caps, hidden fees, or long-term contracts.

Cullman Sprout Fiber construction map

When we last checked in on Cullman back in 2020, the cooperative had only just launched its Sprout broadband initiative, with plans to deploy fiber to 12,000 of the co-op’s 44,000 electric customers. Fast forward to 2023, and the cooperative officials say Sprout fiber service will soon be deployed to about half of all existing electric utility customers.

Mark Freeman, Cullman’s manager of network operations, recently told Inside Towers that the cooperative originally projected that it could break even with a 30% take rate. Currently, Sprout’s take rate is around 39%, with 6,700 of the 17,000 homes passed so far signing up for service.

Cullman’s progress recently grabbed the attention of state leaders, who on December 4 held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the co-op’s achievements and bring attention to what has been an historic round of state and federal broadband subsidization and collaboration. At the ceremony, State Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, said:

“I want to make sure everyone understands exactly why we’re here. Today marks the celebration of a partnership; a partnership between the State of Alabama and the Cullman Electrical Co-op which benefits Cullman County and Winston County in expanding Internet to unserved individuals, businesses and communities to the tune of nearly $7 million.”

Cullman Alabama sign

Alabama is currently ranked 24th in terms of broadband coverage, speed, and availability. The state is poised to receive more than $1.4 billion in BEAD (Broadband Equitable Access And Deployment) funds, made possible by the 2021 infrastructure bill. Only six states are being allocated more funding, and while GOP Alabama Senators – including Senator Tommy Tuberville and former Senator Richard Shelby – voted against the infrastructure bill, they still often take credit for the program’s benefits with constituents.

For its part, Cullman officials say they intend to take full advantage of the fund to help extend the Sprout network into more rural portions of Alabama.

Meanwhile, Cullman and Sprout maintain an interactive map keeping track of the project’s progress as the cooperative leads the charge for affordable access in the Yellowhammer state.

Watch a video of Cullman County officials discussing their latest progress below:

Remote video URL

Inline image of Cullman Alabama sign courtesy of Jimmy Emerson, DVM, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic