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OEC Fiber Delivering the Gigabit Service People Want in Oklahoma - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 398
Norman, Oklahoma, is known for the University of Oklahoma and, with 30,000 students enrolled, one expects Internet access to be vibrant and readily available throughout the area. It hasn't always been that way, but thanks to Oklahoma Electric Cooperative and their OEC Fiber, those who live and work in the areas around the fringes of the University and the city now have access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.
CEO of the co-op Patrick Grace and President of OEC Fiber David Goodspeed visit with Christopher during this week's episode. They talk about how the electric cooperative got into offering fiber to folks in their region and how they've financed the deployment. Patrick and David describe how local competition has influenced their project and how they knew they needed to pursue the prospect of offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service. They talk about their rapid expansion and share information on the popularity of their gig service.
They also describe the reactions from subscribers who once had to rely on satellite or mobile hotspots as they've transitioned to at-home gigabit connectivity. Enthusiasm for OEC Fiber has been high, partly due to the services they offer, but also because the community and employees of the cooperative have a deep sense of pride in the contribution their project is making to the region.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
David Goodspeed: We went where no one else was going when the for-profits were pulling out, so we came in and really showed what happened 85 years ago and how we truly changed people's lives.
Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 398 of The Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, Patrick Grace and David Goodspeed from the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative join Christopher to talk about the organization and how they've expanded from electric service to fiber-optic connectivity. Patrick and David discuss operating in a state that has restrictions. They also review challenges they've had, partnerships and financing.
Lisa Gonzalez: Now here's Christopher talking with Patrick Grace and David Goodspeed from Oklahoma Electric Cooperative.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Today, I'm speaking with two folks from the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, Patrick Grace is the CEO of Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, welcome to the show.
Patrick Grace: Happy to be here.
Christopher Mitchell: We also have David Goodspeed, the president of OEC, that's the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative fiber. Welcome to the show, David.
David Goodspeed: Thank you very much.
Christopher Mitchell: It's wonderful to be talking with you. I think it's always a good place to start if you, I'll ask Patrick to tell us a little bit about the region in which you serve in Oklahoma. Where is it?
Patrick Grace: OEC is located in Norman, Oklahoma, which is just about 20 miles south of Oklahoma City. We primarily serve about three counties of the 77 here in Oklahoma, but Norman, the home of the University of Oklahoma, which most people are familiar with, so we have kind of the suburban bedroom community that feeds into Oklahoma City. But we also have some very rural parts as well, typical of a lot of co-ops that are around; as the big cities kind of grew out into us, we have some density in some places and some that are still farms and ranches there.
Patrick Grace: Right on I-35, which cuts the country in half, we're sitting about a stone's throw, our headquarters' about a stone's throw from that interstate.
Christopher Mitchell: Oh. I'm not far from that interstate myself. I could just hop on and come down and meet y'all.
Patrick Grace: Goes all the way up into Canada, I think.
Christopher Mitchell: Pretty close, yeah. I was curious about the number of meters that you serve.
Patrick Grace: Yeah, sure. About 56,000 meters, and we have a little over 5,000 miles of lines, so that's approximately 10.2 meters per mile. For an electric cooperative, that's on the higher end of the dense cooperative. So about 92% residential, kind of the same with the bedroom community here, but with that comes about 60% of our plant is overhead, and about 40%'s underground. So later, when we get into the fiber bill, that was a factor.
David Goodspeed: The complexity of our service territory also is that we are intertwined with a for-profit, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Utility. We were just talking about in a meeting this morning is that we have two houses next door to each other, one's OEC and one is OG&E, service territory also intertwines, which did present some unique and challenging and exciting opportunities for the OEC fiber side of the project.
Christopher Mitchell: I'd love to hear about that, I'm a bit confused as to how that could happen.
Patrick Grace: David, I'm glad you bring that up. It's a very unique aspect of us. Oklahoma has some weird laws and some constitutional stuff that, obviously the rural cooperatives were out, OEC were out in the rural areas, the farming communities, and the city had annexed out. Instead of kind of leaving us to our territory, as the city's annexed out, the city's had a franchise, they could serve anywhere in the city limits, so as they came into our territory, we fought for the right that we can keep on serving where we're always serving, where the investor and utilities were not interested in serving years ago.
Patrick Grace: And so we had quite a bit of dual certified territory within state limits. So with that, the quirk of the constitution was that we basically had open competition for every meter, anything new. Anything old was grandfathered in with whoever had it. Back in the late '90s and 2000s, we were hot and heavy as a competitive electrical supplier, and so we were building out, trying to pick up housing additions as this area grew, like I said, in the suburbs, and so was our OG&E, our competitor.
Patrick Grace: We have housing additions where we're both in there, literally neighbors that have one utility and the other, there's a street light on one side of the cul-de-sac that's OEC and OG&E on the other side. Made for an interesting dynamics when we got all this going. As a side note, that's great, competition is typically good, and it was good for anybody new, it was good the developers. It was not good for all the rate payers and utility members and customers in Oklahoma, so legislation fixed that about 10 years ago, and we now have defined territories for anything new, but everything's pretty much already built out.
Patrick Grace: As David said, unique challenges and opportunities as we build out and when we look at getting into broadband.
Christopher Mitchell: I'll be actually sure to ask you about that, because I feel like that probably makes you better positioned than many utilities, given that you already had to be thinking in a competitive mindset to be ready for the fiber.
Patrick Grace: It did, yeah, we had a little bit of competition in our blood, for sure. And that helped. What really helped is when we looked at the feasibility study, we knew we had a little bit bigger markets than we know about, just on our, from our electric members. And so the challenge with that is we don't know exactly what that could be, how big that could be, because we don't have any of that data. That was on our electric members.
Patrick Grace: A little bit of faith, though. Luckily, when we started off with the feasibility study, it worked just with our electrical members, and so whatever we can pick up along the way with OG&E accounts is just even better.
Christopher Mitchell: So David, in other interviews we've often asked, and I feel like there's a normal progression in which the utility will often start with fiber for [escada 00:06:41] to monitor lines and things like that, and then over time, recognize the value in providing a service no one else will to the customers. So David, tell me a little bit about, how did you first get involved with fiber and then transition to considering residential fiber?
David Goodspeed: It's a pretty fun story that I love telling. My admiration for Patrick goes extremely deep, because he's a 20-year veteran at Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, started out as an electrical engineer, and I love to say the joke, because he also verifies it, he knows everything twice. So we kind of came on on a crash-course, really, of how I got here, and what his vision was and what my vision was and how it's all worked out, is that I had been a vice-president at the University of Oklahoma, and so I had a different mindset of how things work when your constituents at a university are students and faculty and alumni and everything else.
David Goodspeed: So it was a little bit of a competitive mindset, and so coming over to, whenever he interviewed me and we talked about this, and he said "hey, we're thinking about doing this Fiber-to-the-Home and fiber-to-the-business project, fiber-to-the-premise, whatever anybody's calling it nowadays-
Christopher Mitchell: I'm so with you when it comes to the confusion around the terminology. There's these minor things that it would just be lovely if we could all know exactly what we're talking about with the acronyms and abbreviations.
David Goodspeed: Yeah, we used to call it fiber-to-the-X, and people are saying "what's the X?", kind of thing. But we knew that, we were coming at it from different directions. I was coming from a competitive, "let's go and take on the world," and there was an aspect, also, an engineering type project, and I do not have the engineering background ... I measure once and then go find the tape measure, but I've already cut something, whereas Patrick measures twice and then cuts once. I usually use the analogy of, you know, pushing off the ledge and build the wings on the way down and see what happens. And that is very unorthodox in coming into a utility that is very strategic in how things are happening and how it should be done and not be done and things like that.
David Goodspeed: So it was an interesting way of approaching the project from two different sides of the fence, and how do we meet in the middle in saying, "okay, we're going to be doing Fiber-to-the-Home. While we're also doing Fiber-to-the-Home, here are all the other challenges that came on in how we were supposed to do things and not do things," and it's really what I think is the, you know, people always ask or say "how did y'all do this? What's the secret sauce? And I think if you start at the top there with us, you take Patrick out of the equation, you take me out of the equation, it changes the dynamic of the project completely.
David Goodspeed: Then it falls into my side of the table and his side of the table and how it flows through an operates-type thing, and HR and legal and all this on the co-op side and how does it flow through on the fiber side with the network? And the marketing aspect of it, right, is that we're out there marketing a product that we want people to buy from us, whereas as a electric co-op, you buy a house, you call and the state, like Patrick alluded to, you call and you say "well, I don't want this, I want that," and they're saying "you can't do that, you don't have a choice."
David Goodspeed: It's been a very, I guess the best way to say using Jim Warvell's term, it's been a wild ride, and how we have got to the point where we are right now is that, Jonathan Chambers from Conexon has mentioned, is that we are one of the fastest, if not the fastest, Fiber-to-the-Home projects being done by a co-op right now. And I would put up against any of the other big, the big boys out there and for-profits and everything else under the sun about how fast we've gone. It's due to Patrick's leadership and also our board members who knew what we're doing and why we're doing it and how we're doing it, and to be able to have faith in product that is needed greatly, doesn't matter if you live in downtown Norman and you have access to high-speed fiber and gig speeds and everything else, that if you live 20 miles outside of town and you want to see the stars and you want to live on five acres and you don't want an HOA to tell you what you can and cannot do, that you should have the same amenities.
David Goodspeed: That's what's happening across the country, is that, Patrick and I talk about this a lot, as I keep saying, we just hit everything at the right time. We're not too far behind the puck that's getting skated out there in front of us, or we're not overshooting it. We're keeping pace, and so it's been a fun journey so far. We really are just getting started, and really the best is yet to come. We've just learned a lot, I guess is the best way to say it.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, Patrick, let me ask you: back in the early days before you probably even were in contact with David about working on this project, many electric co-op, as you know better than I do, are considering this, and there's more than a hundred that are moving forward at this point, but the vast majority haven't. I'm curious what made you confident that this was a good move for your utility.
Patrick Grace: When I took over as CEO, which was in the beginning of '16, I had no intention of doing anything like this, and we ... in fact, I was internally, or I guess in the state, I was pretty outspoken against it, saying that co-ops should not be getting into this. Like David said, I was an engineer and I knew everything, so I didn't hesitate to tell everybody what my thoughts were. Life has a funny way of humbling you. There's two other co-ops in Oklahoma that got into fiber, the lake region and Northeast Electric.
Patrick Grace: In early '17, our statewide magazine, we have a magazine that goes out to all electric co-op members in the state, did an article on those two broadband projects. And because that magazine went to all OEC members, they first got the idea that electric cooperatives are doing this and they blew us up with an outpouring. Members call and hitting out Facebook page, texting me, people I didn't even know had my phone number. It was really, really interesting. The fundamental assumption that I had, that was incorrect, was that we're in a college town, we have good density, there's housing additions going up all over here, and that just means that we have good Internet options.
Patrick Grace: Our members quickly educated me otherwise, so you have areas that are a mile or two east of the University of Oklahoma, which is massive, and the telecommunications provider were not bringing the high-speed Internet out to them. That floored me, and from that point I felt like, okay, we need to look into this. I started getting comments, but they were casual comments, occasionally someone would write a letter to me, but that's the first time I felt like there was a groundswell, a grassroots kind of feeling. At the end of the day, co-ops really work for our members, and so something I had to pay attention to.
Patrick Grace: So, launched the feasibility study, and the feasibility study came back and said that yeah, this is a great opportunity for a project. That was about mid-2017, and then we really took about six months of due diligence to try to make sure that we really were wanting to do this. We took Conexon to, David mentioned Jonathan Chambers and Randy Klindt, who really bring the expertise to our project as outside design and construction management consultants.
Patrick Grace: And took their feasibility study and all the assumptions that went into it and dove into it and, once again, my engineering background came out where I challenged every assumption and ... I drove them nuts, I'm sure, but really wanted to know what we were getting into. At the end of the day, all the assumptions were, I thought, very, very reasonable, and we've learned now, as we got into it, that they were actually a little conservative. So that was the road. Very unwillingly did we get into it, but at the end of the day, the members and the project really, at least on paper and from what we were hearing, was something we needed to do.
Christopher Mitchell: I've looked at hundreds of projects from municipal utilities, cooperatives, other non-profit arrangements, and for-profits, and rarely do I find a project that is struggling where they say "we challenged every assumption." So it's really a good thing.
Patrick Grace: Right, sure.
Christopher Mitchell: Let me jump back to you, David. I'm curious, you're one of the fastest-growing, you said. How are you managing that? Is it just super-easy to build on your polls, maybe to avoid any make-ready, or is there a secret to your expansion?
David Goodspeed: It's not a secret; what the success goes back to is really, like what Patrick just said, is that, you know, mid-'17, the members started going, and probably non-members, I mean, if anybody says "hey, somebody can do this," it doesn't matter if you're a member of a co-op or not, and really kind of casting the vision and saying, you know, sitting down every VP at his table at that time and saying "all right, operations, give me your input, give me your thoughts." And metering and HR and legal and especially member services and all that stuff, instead of just saying "well, members want this, this is what we're going to do, we're going to shove it down everybody's throats and you're going to like it, take it or leave it."
David Goodspeed: I was not here, I didn't come on until September of '17, so I was not here for a lot of those moments and those trips or those ... I think they visited a co-op, they went out as a team and looked at this, but I think it was really setting the vision and saying "this is what our members want," knowing that the culture that OEC, that's been here for 85 years, is always about the member first. No matter what, everything that I've learned in my little over two-and-a-half years here, is that ... I always start the stories like, the member that calls our phone number and asks for help. We do whatever we can do, and so I think it's really, like I said, just casting that vision and saying, "we know we need to do this, we ought to do it, we probably know we're going to do it."
David Goodspeed: Our VP of operations, Marty Hayes, he asked him in June of '17, "I mean we're 50-50 if you think we're going to do it, because we're going to start doing things to prepare for this." So I think really, all the work that had happened prior to me getting here, of saying we're going to do it. Now, there's a lot of things that have happened since then that made the co-op probably a little uncomfortable, made Patrick a little uncomfortable, made me a little uncomfortable. Google had danced around in Oklahoma City saying they're going to do fiber and all this stuff, so it really started probably in, like, '15, '14-'15, somewhere around there. People were getting excited about Fiber-to-the-Home. It didn't matter if it was an AT&T or a Cox or a Google or somebody else, people understood what the technology could do for them, because with the Internet of things, it was pushing these conversations to the front, saying "I want to do all this stuff, I've got terrible Internet."
David Goodspeed: So really, what happened was that morphing of this project that came into this idea that OEC's going to do Fiber-to-the-Home. Well, OEC does everything exceptionally well, and I'm not saying that because I work here, they are. I've been a member for over 20 years, and I think I had a problem once in 20 years with a gopher chewing on my electrical line or something like that. So when we started doing it, the demand took off. The horse had broken the fence, and it was gone. And there are some funny stories where Patrick's like, you know, he puts his hands up by his ears and goes "this is my comfort level on marketing," and then he just stretches them out maybe a foot and he goes "and this is where I'm at right now, and I'm uncomfortable, and I'm leaving."
David Goodspeed: Knowing that that's where we were going and just kind of riding this wave of people saying "we love you, we want you, can you be here tomorrow?" We're saying "we just attached our first pole in April of 2018." The demand has really, what it did was is it changed the co-op in general. The employee that would wear an OEC shirt to work and then they would go eat dinner someplace, nobody talked to them. Well, then what happened was is that, all of a sudden they go to a restaurant, and they're being approached saying "I understand you guys are doing this fiber." And so they were a part of it, it wasn't just an OEC fiber and the fiber team ... it touched everybody in Enterprise Architecture, it touched the linemen, it touched metering, it touched everybody that just went out in the public that, see, they said "we're behind you. What do we got to do? We'll do some marketing for you."
David Goodspeed: I've had members who've been doing marketing for me, and I just keep giving them the yard signs and the door hangers and the graphics to put on their HOH Facebook page. It really took a great sense of pride in what, I started from the very beginning saying we're doing something that we will never be able to do again in our lives, and some people will never be able to do period, is what happened 85 years ago when my mother and uncle and my grandparents were living in southwestern Oklahoma and my mom said "you know what, I didn't get electricity till I was, like, second or third grade."
David Goodspeed: And so to really sit back and say wow, we have an opportunity in front of us that falls into the co-op spirit and falls into that co-op mentality to say "we are doing something nobody else will ever do again." I can retire at age 80 and say "nobody will take away what I did at that time of my life," and so to take that pride and then use the tagline that we did, saying "go where no one else will go." Imagine somebody trying to market that 85 years ago to a farmer, they're just saying "we need to turn on the lights when it gets dark."
David Goodspeed: That was our tagline early on, was "going where no one else will go." And we went where no one else was going when the for-profits were pulling out. We came in and really showed what happened 85 years ago and how we've truly changed people's lives.
Christopher Mitchell: I love that enthusiasm, and I fully agree in terms of that you're doing something that not everyone has an opportunity to do. I mean, this is daunting to build this infrastructure, but it's certainly, it's not like these things come along every generation. It's only once every few. With all the excitement that you can still generate, it doesn't always mean that you can find the financing, and so Patrick, I'm curious how you're able to finance this. Were you involved with any of the auctions from the Federal Communications Commission? Have you been self-financing? What's the approach?
Patrick Grace: The access to low-cost financing is a huge piece of the puzzle. When we did our feasibility study, we just looked at it without any federal grants because I think it's real important, at that time, we didn't know what was available, what would get anything, and the feasibility study worked without them. And so we have been 98% self-financed, meaning we've taken on debt from a great partner we have, CFC, who's a lender to electric cooperatives, almost exclusively electric cooperatives. It's owned by us as well. So that has been huge. Now, as we have gotten along the ... we've become their biggest debt portfolio because we've gone so fast and we're kind of out in front of a lot of co-ops doing this. We're all kind of learning as we go along.
Patrick Grace: Also, to echo a few things that David said, you asked about speed and how we're able to go so fast. Pardon the football analogy, but we are here in Norman, Oklahoma-
Christopher Mitchell: That's acceptable.
Patrick Grace: Sooner fans, yeah, big Sooner fans. Lincoln Riley averages 40 or 50 points a game, that doesn't happen from one reason only. That happens with a lot of things working together, with everyone doing their job and everything coming together and the right people in the right spot, the right quarterback, skilled players all that stuff. And I think that's really what we have. David talked about, it started with the electric side, and the whole management team just really being on board. They were part of the whole feasibility and the due diligence process, and they heard from the members, and then the rest of the co-op, they really understood it. So you have everybody, the whole team really all working together well, and that's huge.
Patrick Grace: The other big, huge part, David probably won't say this, but David himself, his skill set and his personality, he came from outside the co-op, and that was very intentional because the fiber project, it's a rollercoaster, and it changes daily. The upper utility folks, I always joke that we work for an 80-year monopoly cash cow. To take the same approach and same people and same skill set and apply that to a start-up, basically a start-up Internet company, that's hard. When we looked at, okay, who's going to run this or who's going to be the leader of this, that's where David came from the university and he was with Apple and had retail experience at Target before then, and just, someone who could take us and move fast and really be responsive and head on a swivel.
Patrick Grace: It's hard for us, hard for me, even now, and I don't even, in the middle of it. David's the one driving the ship on that. But that's huge too, and he developed a tremendous team, and then along with that, he got out and hit the marketing really hard, mainly through social media. So we developed this big demand, I talked a little bit about, the members were already kind of bubbling up. I was a little afraid of trying to get out there too far ahead with marketing, because I was afraid that we'd get run over by our members.
Patrick Grace: David, he came in and just embraced it and got out there and marketed, and we have, you know, the line out our door, people that are excited about it. We have to manage that expectation, but that also fueled the desire to go fast as people wanted. So we didn't want to do it quietly, we didn't want to go out and struggle to have people sign up for our services. He hit that well, so you cue all that up, mix it in a pot, and then you have a partner like Conexon, which we talked about that was able to scale up with us. The contractor we're using is local here in Norman, and we sat down with them and they said "we want to do all your projects," and we said "we want you to do all our projects, how fast can you go?" And they said "let's go find out."
Patrick Grace: To your point, we had financing that was available to us that could scale up and go as fast as we need to, and then the original question about make-ready, we also had a very strong system that, we've had about 15 FEMA events since 1999, so either tornadoes or ice storms, that have really wiped out our system, so we've had to rebuild it. Every time we rebuild it, we build it a little bit stronger, because end up having another big tornado or ice storm. Fiber construction's actually able to get out in front of the make-ready quite a bit because of the system.
Patrick Grace: Now, there's also, if you ask anybody that works here, back in my time in engineering, we might've over-engineered the system a little bit. Would not plead innocent to that charge. You know, back when we were competing with OG&E, OG&E, 850,000 customers, serving the whole state and then they go off into Arkansas a little bit, and we were, at the time, about 40,000. We can't really compete with them from a cost perspective, just because of the economy of the scale, so we had to compete on service. When we went out there, we tried to be faster, be more responsive, but also just be better when it comes to reliability as well.
Patrick Grace: So that was kind of how we set ourselves up back then, and it's really interesting now that we're getting into broadband, once again, service is what sets us apart because we treat them like they're members. We're local and they can call and yell at me and yell at David. They do that regularly if we mess something up, and as fast as we're going, things get cut and we miss things. We're trying to manage the chaos, but it is chaos.
Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious about the other reaction, the people who are thrilled. Well, I guess I'm curious about all reactions. So let me ask you, David, how many people are taking the gigabits service, rather than the 100-megabit that you have as sort of the standard tier? Just share any other reactions that you have from people in terms of, especially local businesses or residents.
David Goodspeed: The approach that we, based off of Conexon's model, which is really "keep is simple." What we've done is we have two packages for the Internet side, which is 100 megs, symmetrical speeds of no data caps for $55 a month, or a full gig, symmetrical speeds, no data caps for $85 a month. That has really just set the industry and the competition on its ear, right? The fact that the way we have approached it and the simplicity of it, and no contracts and no hidden fees and no introductories and no all that, I can't imagine, at this pace that we're doing it, dealing with 12-month contracts and people that are upset about and about that and everything else.
David Goodspeed: When we launched our full retail service of the Internet, when we actually went to the first house and said, we got past the friendlies and all that other type of stuff, our first install, I can tell you, took us three days, and now we're averaging about 40 a day. So you can kind of understand how fast we've gone since we started offering services on February 10th of 2019. What that's done is, is that's equated to about 7,100 active subscribers that we have on our network currently, and about 2,000 of those, a little bit shy of 2,000, are taking the gig speed.
Christopher Mitchell: Wow. That's remarkable. I've heard some similar stories, I really appreciate you sharing the actual numbers with us. I just want to put a punctuation mark on that, because that's remarkable.
David Goodspeed: Yeah, and it's hard to understand. Like Patrick said, coming from the world of Apple and then coming from the university, I've got a pretty good finger on the pulse about the Internet of things and how people are consuming the Internet and what they're wanting to do and everything else. I think, somebody asked this the other day, we were at a Conexon workshop and they said, "what did you do to get your gig rate, take rate so high?" I said, well, first off, we didn't focus on it. What we focused on was the service and the price and the ease and simplicity and the, everything about it.
David Goodspeed: You know, I always say this to Patrick and he has to remind me, because sometimes, like he said, it's an emotional rollercoaster, is that it's is just noise. We just focus on ourselves, we focus on what we do, and good things will come and bad things will come and we'll learn from it. We pretty much don't repeat history, and if we do, it's okay. Really, what's happening is is that, in the rural areas, and we deliberately went to where people were, like Patrick said, two miles east of the University of Oklahoma, they had, like, 10 tubes or eight tubes or something like that, so we deliberately went that way because we knew the demand would be high on the overall take rate type scenarios and things like that.
David Goodspeed: But what I think happened was is that it's like the ... the only analogy I can think of real quick is that we can all remember our first car, and it was probably our brother's or sister's and it was a hand-me-down and you got coat hangers with the door locks and you had everything else. But when you got your first big-boy or big-girl job and you went and bought that car, you just said "holy cow, I can go really fast, I can drive from Norman to Minneapolis without having to worry about putting oil or antifreeze in it, I'm good to go. I'll never have to look back again."
David Goodspeed: I think that's what's happening, is that people have been so deprived of having an experience in the home, whether it's doing homework with the kids or watching Netflix, which is something we all take for granted, but some people have never had that experience. And I think they just said, you know what, at the value of what this is, because I was paying a satellite company ... I've heard this particularly, people right now are saying "I hit my daily caps and I'm paying a satellite company twice as much as what you're charging for the gig. And you're telling me that I can have kind of experience in the home and never have to worry about my Internet speeds or anything like that ever again? I'm taking it."
David Goodspeed: And so then what that did is that exploded into them taking it, and then started doing things in the home that were different. And then what Patrick talked about just a second ago, which I totally got caught off-guard with the impact social media had, is that when we opened up zones, we've got friends tagging friends and saying "you're next, you're next," but what people do is they take pictures of the equipment outside of their house and they're saying "I'm getting it." And then they take pictures of their speeds, and when we do an install, we do a speed test, and we record that for the member and we show it to them, and then they're doing speed tests on their own and they're posting it on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, showing 980 megs up and 987 megs down or something like that.
David Goodspeed: People are saying "holy cow, this is real, and it's only $85." Yep, yep, it is, it is, and you just kind of sit back and just watch it go. What it's really done, it's just changed the way people are living, we've started to see that more people are working from home, so that demand's there. Employers paying for the gig, that's great, or if they just want it, they can now afford it. And like I said, you could sit here and ask me the same question again and I can give you a completely different answer, because I really don't truly have an answer of what we did to say "we're going to push the gig."
David Goodspeed: We're not pushing either package, I'm pushing the experience, I'm pushing the service, I'm pushing the fact, like Patrick said, is that I'm accessible, I've shown up in members' home who are mad, and as the president, you're not going to get the president of a, you know, of a big-boy out there to show up at somebody's home and say "you're right, we put those ruts in your yard" or "you're right, you're not getting the speeds, we will get it fixed. We can do this."
David Goodspeed: It's people just saying "I want the best, I got rid of my brother's hand-me-down and I've got a Ford that can go to Minneapolis. I'm good to go, and I'll never have think back about it." They'll never have to worry about it ever again. And the last thing I'll tell about that is, one day I'm standing there with one of my network technicians, and he said, I can tell he had the little puzzled look on his face, and he's looking at the phone. We had just started offering services, and I said "what's wrong?" And he said, "well, we've got a member who, his speeds in his home are only, like, 300 megs up and down around that area." I said, "okay, he's on the gig plan, obviously, right?" And he was like, "yeah."
David Goodspeed: And I said, they don't know any different, because the passion that the team has, they want to make sure that they've got that 900-plus the best way they possibly can. So people can drop, they can do speed tests and be at 900, they can drop to 500. You and I, Patrick, nobody will notice the difference; the fact is that they got the best of the best, we're delivering the best of the best, because we are the best of the best. I will say it.
David Goodspeed: They want that and they know how important it is, and it's been just an absolute phenomenal experience to see how this all is evolving, and really pushing us to what does this look like when we get past launching TV and phone service here pretty soon. What is the next thing look like, what do we want to do? What else do we want to give them? That's why our name is OEC Fiber, it's not OEC Internet or Broadband, it's Fiber. Fiber it the conduit and the light that gives people the ability to do what it is they want to do, and taking it back to 2017, when the members come back, and now our subscribers, saying "we want you to do this" and you've got the pipe to do it, let's do it.
David Goodspeed: So it's just, it's been very mind-boggling, is the best way to say it.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, David, I wish you had some enthusiasm for this job.
David Goodspeed: Yeah, I don't know --
Patrick Grace: Yeah, you have no idea.
David Goodspeed: Yeah, sometimes Patrick has to let me kind of turn into my shoe size and let me pout and let me get frustrated, but the best thing I love to tell is that, in the beginning, I would always say "you need to sit down." He would always say "I am sitting down." I was like, "you need to hear this." Now we've got this little thing that goes back and forth between us, we always say "you can't make this stuff up."
David Goodspeed: It is, it's the enthusiasm, it is truly dealing with the adversity and dealing the, "it's okay, Patrick, this is what's really bad right now," or "this is what's really good," and just, he gave me a wonderful piece of advice: we all have those moments in our lives, and I think everybody listening to this can reflect on those, but he just said "keep showing up. Tomorrow's a new day." And I think it's because of the experience of the co-op of saying "we've dealt with ice storms."
David Goodspeed: I've got a lineman who works for me, a former lineman who works for me who's our outside plant construction manager, and he told me one day, he said, had nothing to do with our fiber, but I think the listeners will really, truly appreciate and understand the complexity of this project. He said, we were out in an ice storm and they had built about five miles of line, and they were sitting in the truck and he was cold and tired, and he was sitting there with the guy that rode with him, and they got out of the truck and all of a sudden they heard this cracking, and the poles just started breaking again.
David Goodspeed: And he said, you know, "we just settled those poles. It all broke and we had to go back and do it again." And I said "well, what'd you do?" He said, "I questioned why I'm doing this as a job." You can imagine the feeling he had. But he said "you know what, we just did it." Patrick has seen those moment where the co-op just said "keep showing up." You just go reset the poles, and so by just saying "just keep showing up, don't lose focus, it'll all be okay, it'll all work itself out," and we're under the pressure right now, we are pressure-cooking right now while we're doing this podcast with you and we're getting 40-plus people hooked up today, and there's a pressure-cooker going on with offering TV services and phone.
David Goodspeed: But the fact that we can still not lose focus on what we're doing and deal with the adversity and deal with emotions that come with it and deal with the excitement, and then you get excited and then it falls apart, and then you pick it back up and do it again. It's been one of the biggest joys of my life, and I will never forget it. That's for sure.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, I'll have to let you get back to those 40 customers for today. I do have to note that I had a mentor who was just amazing, and one day I saw her after she had coffee and I almost just, my brain almost melted at the speed she was operating at. I get the idea that you may have to deal with that, Patrick.
Patrick Grace: Yes, except it's 5-Hour Energy for David. This whole project is fueled by 5-Hour Energy.
Christopher Mitchell: Sure.
David Goodspeed: This is not a 5-Hour Energy commercial, but he came in and I didn't have one, and so I grabbed a couple Sudafed, I said "this is all I got." He just looked at me and just, he just smiled and put his hand on his head and said "give it to me." I think that's the key, for people who want to do it or whatever, is that, it's finding the people who share the same vision and mission with you that can pick you up when you fall, or you're there to pick them up when they fall. This is not easy, and if it was, then everybody would be doing it, and as Randy Klindt called it one time, he said "it would be called drinking a beer."
David Goodspeed: There's only one Steve Jobs, he said "I want to put music on a device," and somebody had to go firm, so hopefully when we come out of this at the end, we don't know when the end is, but when we get to that point, we can look back and just say, okay, see you tomorrow, we'll do it again.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you both, Patrick and David, I very much appreciate the opportunity to learn more about your project.
Patrick Grace: Yeah, thanks for talking to us.
David Goodspeed: You got it, thank you.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with Patrick Grace and David Goodspeed from the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative about the entity and OEC Fiber. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at email@example.com with your ideas for the show; follow Chris on Twitter, his handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter, the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, "Building Local Power" and the "Local Energy Rules" podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts.
Lisa Gonzalez: You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, "Warm Duck Shuffle," licensed through Creative Commons. This was episode 398 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Thanks for listening.