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In June of 2020, Cullman Electric Cooperative launched Sprout Fiber Internet, a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network to bring broadband access to its members in rural Alabama. Sprout Fiber has taken significant strides since then, connecting its 1,300th subscriber in October of 2021.
By July of 2020, Sprout Fiber had started the first phase of network construction, with plans to connect 25 percent of Cullman’s membership – or 12,000 households – by spring of 2022. Sprout’s first customer was connected in January 2021. By the following September, Sprout was serving “over 1,000 broadband customers and handling about 12 activations per day,” with a little under half of its Phase I deployment finished. This puts its take rate around 20 percent in less than a year. By November, Sprout Fiber had completed a fiber ring backbone to connect its offices and substations.
Expanding Access and Choices
Local competition includes AT&T and Charter Spectrum, which offer service to the town of Cullman itself but not to its surrounding areas. Several wireless and satellite providers also offer service locally. There is significant demand for Sprout Fiber’s service, however, including from members in gap areas that don’t have other options for high-speed Internet access. According to Sprout Fiber, “twenty-five percent of [its] service territory still does not have any access to [the] Internet, and other areas do not have access to a quality Internet connection.”
Guided by member demand and targeting areas without existing robust broadband infrastructure, Sprout Fiber plans to expand broadband service into ten new areas and to 9,000 additional members in 2022 (see map below, with green areas live right now, with pink scheduled to go live early in 2022 and purple to follow thereafter. For a high-resolution version of the map, click here). Cullman Electric CEO Tim Culpepper told members:
The Talladega Superspeedway isn’t the only place in Alabama showcasing blazing fast speeds. A little more than an hour north of the famed NASCAR venue, the Cullman Electric Cooperative is racing to build a new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, bringing gig-speed Internet connectivity to the cooperative’s 44,000 member-owners spread out across Cullman, Winston, Morgan, and Lawrence counties in the north-central part of the state.
In June 2020, Cullman Electric Co-op officials waved the green flag, announcing the start of network construction for Sprout Fiber Internet. Seven months later, having hung 120 miles of the mainline fiber ring, Sprout Fiber’s first paying customer went online in Berlin, the first town in the cooperative’s service area to be connected to the fiber network.
“This truly is a historic moment, much like when the first residents in the region received electricity. This technology carries the same potential to improve the quality of life for our members,” Cullman Electric Cooperative CEO Tim Culpepper told The Cullman Times as the 85-year-old electric cooperative began connecting customers with a need for high-speed Internet service.
‘Crazy Fast’ Game Changer
Alabama State Representative Randall Shedd (R-Fairburn), who helped advance legislation allowing electric cooperatives to provide Internet services to its members, called Sprout Fiber “a game changer for our area, economically.”
In 1936, Cullman Electric was the first co-op in the state of Alabama to “energize” its electric lines. Today, it serves about 44,000 member-owners in the north central part of the state.
The first phase of the co-op’s project will extend the Sprout Fiber Internet network to 12,000 of those members, making gigabit Internet access available to both residents and businesses. Community members are looking forward to faster broadband speeds, while state and local officials hope the new network will boost the region’s economy.
“This is going to be a game changer,” State Representative Randall Shedd said at the announcement. “When rural Alabama has high speed Internet, then rural Alabama will be able to do work in rural Alabama.”
Connecting the Grid and Their Members
The electric co-op’s decision to invest in a Fiber-to-the-Home network was influenced in part by a petition organized by Baileyville residents dissatisfied with the poor broadband options available in the area.
Additionally, Cullman Electric was interested in developing a fiber network to connect its substations and better manage its electric grid. “It will cut down outage response times significantly and lay the foundation for us to take advantage of cutting-edge technology in the future,” shared CEO Tim Culpepper.