Windstream and Colquitt Electric Cooperative Partner On $33 Million Georgia Fiber Deployment

Colquitt EMC logo

Windstream Communications and local nonprofit electrical cooperative Colquitt Electric Membership Corp are partnering on a $32.5 million fiber deployment that will bring fiber optic broadband to 17,000 homes and businesses in Colquitt County, Georgia.

Once completed sometime next year, the partnership should help deliver last-mile fiber access to roughly 70% of Colquitt County residents, many of which either have no current broadband access, or have long been stuck on sluggish, expensive, and dated digital subscriber line (DSL).

Windstream will maintain ownership of the finished network and provide residential service under its Kinetic brand, while Colquitt EMC will utilize the network to help maintain and support the company’s existing electrical grid.

Kinetic will use $21.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grants to fund the network build, while providing $11.1 million of its own funds to cover any cost overruns. The company says it has already laid 180 miles of cable of an expected 440 miles total county wide.

Colquitt County GA map

“Colquitt EMC has been an instrumental part in the delivery of fiber in its service area,”  Kinetic Georgia operations President Michael Foor said in a prepared statement. “We are grateful for its willingness to support these efforts.”

As ILSR has long noted, PPPs can be a decidedly mixed bag. They can be good for municipalities unable or unwilling to handle the logistics or cost of a major deployment alone. At the same time, locals don’t have much or any control over the trajectory of the finished network, including pricing that can quickly creep out of the range of affordability.

Windstream and Colquitt EMC have technically been partnering since 2020, when they first announced their intent to collaborate on upgrades. The partnership came just one year after the Georgia legislature passed a new law making it easier for electrical coops to deliver fiber access to existing electricity customers.

“Colquitt EMC agreed to assist with make-ready and honor zero-cost pole attachments to support its members getting fiber optic internet service,” a spokesperson tells Fierce Telecom. “This also provides a smart grid for future use of the EMC.”

While the Windstream project focuses on Colquitt County, the cooperative’s service area covers seven counties in the region, including Berrien, Brooks, Colquitt, Cook, Lowndes, Tift and Worth, serving 48,000 member-owners and 72,000 electric customers.

Numerous cooperatives have been leveraging experience gleaned from the century-old efforts at rural electrification to shore up rural fiber access. In both instances, cooperatives stepped in to combat market failure, and a sustained refusal by fully private operators to deploy fiber into rural markets–often despite massive taxpayer subsidies dispersed over decades.

Colquitt County GA Courthouse

Windstream has been busy since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2020. The company says it currently has 25 public-private partnerships in Georgia alone, in addition to partnerships across Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

That said, Windstream has also at times lobbied for state bans on community owned and operated broadband networks.

And, like many entrenched regional broadband monopolies, the company’s initial failure to deploy fiber upgrades at scale are a major reason community broadband builds have become hugely popular in the first place.

Windstream, like many U.S. phone companies, claims to have seen the error of its ways.

The company says it has dramatically accelerated its fiber deployments in 2023, including the recent groundbreaking of a project slated to bring fiber to 7,300 customer locations in Union County, Georgia. The company says it currently has 1,000 active construction projects in 37 counties across Georgia.

Inline image of Colquitt County GA courthouse courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported