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Neighbors Helping Neighbors For Fiber In Rural Tennessee: Newport And Morristown Join Forces - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 300

An increasing interest in publicly owned network projects has also spurred an increase in creative collaborations as communities work together to facilitate deployment, especially in rural areas. This week, we talk with Sharon Kyser, Marketing and Public Relations Manager for Newport Utilities (NU) in Newport, Tennessee, and Jody Wigington, General Manager and CEO of Morristown Utility Systems (MUS), also in Tennessee, for episode 300 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We’ve written about MUS Fibernet and had Jody on the show several times to talk about how they built their own network and the ways it has improved the electric utility and helped the community. Now, they’ve entered into a partnership with their neighbors in Newport, who also want to reap the benefits of public ownership. Sharon tells us how the people in Newport need better services, economic development, and how her organization is working with MUS to make that vision a reality.

The two communities are working together to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for residents and businesses in the NU service area. MUS is offering the expertise they’ve developed over the past 12+ years along with other technical and wholesale services that will greatly reduce costs and deployment time for NU. This is an example of rural communities sticking together and is an example we hope to see more often in the future.

In the interview, Jody also mentions a partnership in the works with Appalachian Electric Cooperative; we spoke to him and General Manager Greg Williams about the proposed collaboration for episode 203 of the podcast. Listen to that conversation here.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tennessee Local Authority Bill Halted In Committee

Senator Janice Bowling has long been a champion for rural broadband in Tennessee. On March 6th, her bill SB 1045 came before the Tennessee Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and the members chose not to advance the bill. Once again, big telephone and cable company interests win out over the needs of rural Tennesseans.

Download SB 1045 here.

Information Session 

Sen. Bowling presented information about the bill at a February 27th meeting of the committee. She introduced SB 1045 last year and it was added and removed from committee hearing schedules several times; HB 1410, the companion House bill from Rep. Weaver, encountered similar treatment. SB 1045 would allow municipal networks and cooperatives to provide broadband service beyond their service areas. Communities that don’t have municipal networks, will regain local authority to invest in Internet infrastructure.

Explaining The Need

In her February 27th presentation, Sen. Bowling described how rural areas in the state are crippled in various ways by the lack of high-quality connectivity. She provided a map that visualizes the disparities between rural areas, communities with fiber optic networks, and urban areas.

She described the need for fiber for economic development:

In rural Tennessee, if we have what is called an industrial park, and we have electricity…you have running water, you have some paved roads, but if you do not have access to fiber at this point, what you have is an electrified cow pasture with running water and walking trails. It is not an industrial park.

EPB Fiber Optics Reaffirms Network Neutrality Commitment In Chattanooga

FCC Chairman Alit Pai and Republican Commissioners earned big lumps of coal for holiday gifts this year when they shredded network neutrality protections on December 14th. They also raised interest in publicly owned Internet network infrastructure. Existing publicly owned networks are reaffirming their commitment to network neutrality, including EPB Fiber Optics in Chattanooga.

Online Q & A

In order to reassure their subscribers and help clarify their policy, EPB held a live session via the utility’s Facebook page on December 15th. To start off the conversation, CEO David Wade explained that nothing will change for EPB customers, regardless of the FCC decision. “For EPB fiber optics customers, [this ruling] means nothing,” Wade said. “We’re committed to having an open Internet.”

In an effort to better educate the community, EPB also asked legal counsel David DiBiase, marketing manager Beth Johnson, and Vice President of Marketing J.Ed. Marston to participate in the conversation and answer questions from viewers.

Customer Care Pledge

EPB has embraced network neutrality principles in its Customer Care Pledge, a simple and straight forward list of commitments to subscribers:

The best possible service delivered with the utmost respect. That's always been our commitment to our customers — and it always will be.

Eastern Tennessee: Newport Smart Grid, Morristown Incubator

Approximately 30 miles separate Morristown and Newport, but the two are joining forces to better connect local businesses and residents as entrepreneurs take up residence in the region's newest high-tech work space.

An Incubator for Innovation in Morristown

SkyMart Venture Place is a new cooperative workspace stirring innovation in the quaint downtown district of Morristown.

Morristown was on the forefront of implementing city-wide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) back in 2006. Today their gigabit network MUS FiberNET is fostering innovation in this thriving co-working space and helping neighboring communities bridge their connectivity gaps. Lynn Wolfe explains that the new space has helped support her in the early stages of her business. “[SkyMVP] gives me a place—with super-fast internet—to come and do my internet marketing, and it has been very beneficial for that and being able to upload my training videos,” Wolfe said.

SkyMVP’s doors opened in August of last year and it’s become a hub for local entrepreneurs. The space allows members to hold workshops, rent office space, and network with other professionals.

Similar incubator projects are underway in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley and Indianola, Iowa. SkyMVP is yet another example of how gigabit connectivity can spur positive transformations for local communities. Morristown’s decision to invest in FTTH infrastructure is emboldening their local economy and potential for small business growth in the area is promising. Sky MVP has even begun offering a course for budding entrepreneurs and a handful of free workshops.

Expanding the 'Net in Newport

Tennessee Electric Co-op Ready For Fiber Pilot In Bradley County

Another rural electric cooperative is set to bring high-quality connectivity via fiber optic infrastructure. Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) in Tennessee will be investing in a pilot program in Bradley County by year’s end.

A Learning Process - The Pilot

When it comes to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via publicly owned Internet infrastructure, Chattanooga is typically the first location on everyone’s lips. Unfortunately, neighboring Bradley County has struggled with chronically poor connectivity. Even though Chattanooga would very much like to expand their reach to serve Bradley County residents and businesses, restrictive state law prevents the city from helping their neighbors.

Last summer, VEC saw an opening when the state legislature changed existing barriers that prevented electric cooperatives from offering broadband access or from applying for state grants to deploy the infrastructure. VEC is currently in the process of preparing grant applications through the state’s economic development commission. 

The purpose of the pilot, according to VEC President Rody Blevins, is to determine the level of interest in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity in Bradley County. Areas VEC chose for the pilot include homes where there is no service and premises were there are more than one option.

"We are doing that to discover how many would choose our services who have no options as well as those who do have a source for broadband service already available," Blevins said. "That helps us looking at the bigger financial model."

"If we have real low response, that's going to hurt us," he added. "We are not for- profit, so this thing has to pay for itself overtime. If I show my board it will never pay for itself, we can't do it. But, I don't think that's going to be the case."

Blevins told the Cleveland Banner that the cooperative estimates the cost to cover 75 percent of Bradley County would be approximately $40 million. He went on to say that if 50 percent of households in the pilot areas chose to sign up, “we would be in pretty good shape.” 

Court Sides With Louisville: One Touch Make Ready Is A-Ok

Louisville has overcome a tall hurdle in its efforts to bring better connectivity and more competition to the community through local control. On August 16th the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky supported the city’s one touch make ready (OTMR) ordinance. AT&T challenged the ordinance in court, but their arguments fell flat and court confirmed that the city has the authority to manage its rights-of-way with OTMR.

State Law

AT&T’s claim based on state law asserted that the city was overstepping its authority by enacting the OTMR ordinance because it was impinging on Kentucky Public Service Commission jurisdiction. AT&T attorneys argued that, according to state law, the PSC has exclusive jurisdiction over utility rates and services, but the court found that argument incorrect.

Within the state law, the court found that the OTMR ordinance fell under a carve-out that allows Louisville to retain jurisdiction over its public rights-of-way as a matter of public safety. The ordinance helps limit traffic disruptions by reducing the number of instances trucks and crews need to tend to pole attachments. The court wrote in its Order:

AT&T narrowly characterizes Ordinance No. 21 as one that regulates pole attachments. But the ordinance actually prescribes the “method or manner of encumbering or placing burdens on” public rights-of-way. … It is undisputed that make-ready work can require blocking traffic and sidewalks multiple times to permit multiple crews to perform the same work on the same utility pole…. The one-touch make-ready ordinance requires that all necessary make-ready work be performed by a single crew, lessening the impact of make-ready work on public rights-of-way. … Louisville Metro has an important interest in managing its public rights-of-way to maximize efficiency and enhance public safety. … And Kentucky law preserves the right of cities to regulate public rights-of-way. … Because Ordinance No. 21 regulates public rights-of-way, it is within Louisville Metro’s constitutional authority to enact the ordinance, and [the state law granting authority to the PSC] cannot limit that authority. 

Federal Jurisdiction

Cooperatives Build Community Networks

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Cooperative Fiber Projects 2020

Cooperatives around the country have built on their long legacy of delivering essential infrastructure by starting to deliver next-generation Internet services. Here, we cover the basics of cooperatives in rural areas and then discuss the details of electric and telephone cooperatives that have already branched out into Internet service. Finally, we highlight the first fiber optic cooperative provider, and discuss how other communities have better Internet service through building their own networks.

Why Rural Cooperatives?

Cooperatives are part of the fabric of rural America. The member owners control the cooperative: each person receiving service is a member of the cooperative and can directly vote in elections for the Board of Directors or even become a member of the Board.  

Starting in the 1930s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture supported communities as they created more than 900 electric cooperatives across the country. In the 1950s, the federal government again supported communities building telephone networks, crisscrossing the country with telephone cooperatives to connect rural communities.

Each technology brought new markets, revitalized economies, and revolutionized industries. Cooperatives have a long history of building and maintaining essential infrastructure and providing excellent service in rural communities. Now they have the chance to do that again by building next-generation networks for Internet service.

Rural Public Policies

Rural areas face a number of challenges that urban and suburban communities do not. Low population density coupled with rough terrain can make building infrastructure challenging. Added to these factors, rural communities may not have access to the same financial resources as larger towns and cities do. 

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MN House Chamber

Cooperatives, however, have made infrastructure projects work in rural communities for nearly a century. They have access to funding from their membership base, local banks, and often the federal government. Some state governments have expanded their broadband grant and loan programs to include electric cooperatives. Other states have clarified laws and policies to recognize that electric cooperatives can build fiber networks for Internet service using their current infrastructure. A few states have even removed legislative hurdles that stymied investments by electric cooperatives. Technically, the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Section 253, prohibits states from stopping any co-op from offering Internet service, but co-ops in many states are loathe to challenge state law in court.

North Carolina

In 2019, the state removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from using USDA funding for non-electrical purposes, such as broadband networks. Our 2016 report, North Carolina Connectivity: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, highlighted how this roadblock kept the state’s electric co-ops from providing service to many rural communities. 

Tennessee

During the 2017 legislative session, this state has clarified the language in its laws to allow electric cooperatives to build networks for Internet service. 

Indiana

Cooperatives already have access to utility poles, easements, and Rights-of-Way in the communities that they serve. Indiana, however, needed to clarify that electric co-ops can use this access to provide Internet service, so it passed the FIBRE Act. Other states, including Georgia, Maryland, and Texas, have since followed suit.

Minnesota & Colorado

Minnesota and Colorado have made funding easier to access for cooperatives interested in providing Internet service. Both states have designed grant programs that promote local solutions to connectivity problems. In Minnesota, cooperatives provide most of the Fiber-to-the-Home Internet service thanks in no small part to that grant program. 

Overbuild Or Underbuild?

In Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 91, Christopher Mitchell and Lisa Gonzalez discusses strategies for building Internet infrastructure in rural are. What do communities need to thrive? 

Listen to the podcast.

Electric Cooperatives

More than 900 rural electric cooperatives provide electricity to about 12 percent of the U.S. population. Their service area, however, covers more than half of the total land, nearly 2 million square miles. About 90 rural electric co-ops have embarked on fiber optic projects to increase Internet access for their members. 

Several of these electric cooperatives started by building fiber optic lines to substations and large demand centers to increase the reliability of the electric system through better monitoring. This could then form the backbone of a network for Internet service to businesses and residents. 

Articles and Interviews

We have written many articles and collected several reports detailing how electric cooperatives have tried to increase Internet access in their communities. These stories show the many different ways electric cooperatives have structured partnerships and programs for their members.

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Telephone Pole

Several electric cooperatives provide Internet service themselves. Some started pilot projects, while others built out to their entire service area. The Fiber-to-the-Home project by Valley Electric Association boosted the local economy in Pahrump, Nevada. The co-op has already added 31 new jobs because of the fiber service. 

Others partner with an existing telephone cooperative or telephone company. Ouachita Electric in Arkansas is one of the many cooperatives to have done this. By combining their resources and expertise, this partnership is able to extend electric and Internet service throughout much of southern Arkansas.

Many electric cooperatives work together, such as Sho-Me Power in Missouri and LS Networks in Oregon. These cooperatives have provided connectivity for local ISPs and businesses, and now are looking to connect residents.  

In episode 229 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Jon Chambers, the former head of the FCC Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, describes how electric cooperatives have the potential to bring Internet access to unserved rural America. 

Mel Coleman, president of NRECA and CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, joined the podcast in episode 243 to discuss how the electric co-op had improved Internet access for its members and what other cooperatives are doing.

Find more in our archives.

List of Fiber Projects

This is a list of the rural electric cooperatives that have programs and projects to increase connectivity in their service areas. They do not all provide Fiber-to-the-Home. Some only offer fiber connections to businesses or provide wireless last mile connections while others focus on dark fiber and fiber transport services for other Internet Service Providers. (Total: 109) (Last updated: 12/2019)

Electric CooperativeStateProject
Central Alabama Electric CooperativeAlabamaFTTH (announced)
Joe Wheeler Electric Membership CorporationAlabamaFTTH (announced)
North Alabama Electric CooperativeAlabamaFTTH
Tombigbee Electric Cooperative (freedom FIBER)AlabamaFTTH
Wiregrass Electric CooperativeAlabamaFiber backbone (under construction) ⁠— collaboration with cable company to connect members
Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative (WAVE Rural Connect)ArkansasFTTH
Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation (Empower)ArkansasFTTH
North Arkansas Electric Cooperative (NEXT)ArkansasFTTH
Ouachita Electric Cooperative (ARIS)ArkansasFTTH ⁠— collaboration with telephone company
Ozarks Electric Cooperative (OzarksGo)ArkansasFTTH
South Central Arkansas Electric Cooperative (South Central Connect)ArkansasFTTH
Anza Electric Cooperative (ConnectAnza)CaliforniaFTTH
Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative (Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications)CaliforniaFTTH & wireless with fiber backbone
San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (Ciello)ColoradoFTTH
Delta-Montrose Electric Association (Elevate Fiber)ColoradoFTTH
Southeast Colorado Power Association (SECOM)ColoradoFTTH
Yampa Valley Electric Association (Luminate Broadband)ColoradoFTTH
Blue Ridge Mountain EMCGeorgia &
North Carolina
FTTH
Habersham Electric Membership Corporation (Trailwave; North Georgia Network Cooperative)GeorgiaFTTH; FTTB and Schools
Jefferson Energy CooperativeGeorgiaFTTB ⁠— collaboration with Pineland Telephone Cooperative
Illinois Electric CooperativeIllinoisFTTH
Jo-Carrol Energy (Sand Prairie)IllinoisFTTH & wireless with fiber backbone
Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (Jackson Connect)IndianaFTTH
Johnson County Rural Electric Membership CorporationIndianaFTTH ⁠— collaboration with NineStar Connect
NineStar Connect (merger between Central Indiana Power and Hancock Telecom)IndianaFTTH
Orange County Rural Electric Membership CorporationIndianaFTTH
South Central Indiana Rural Electric Membership CorporationIndianaFTTH
Tipmont Rural Electric Membership Corporation (Wintek)IndianaFTTH
Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative (AC Skyways)IowaWireless with fiber backbone
Maquoketa Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (MVLink)IowaFTTH
Bulter Electric Cooperative (Velocity)KansasFTTH
Warren Rural Electric Cooperative CorporationKentuckyFTTH pilot projects (announced) ⁠— collaborations with North Central Telephone Company and Franklin Electric Power Board
Great Lakes Energy (Truestream)MichiganFTTH
Midwest Energy Cooperative (Midwest Energy and Communications)MichiganFTTH
Tri-County Electric Cooperative (HomeWorks Connect)MichiganFTTH
Arrowhead Electric Cooperative (True North Broadband)MinnesotaFTTH
Meeker Cooperative Light and Power Association (Vibrant Broadband)MinnesotaWireless with fiber backbone ⁠— collaboration with Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company and Spring Grove Communications
MiEnergy Electric CooperativeMinnesotaFTTH & wireless with fiber backbone
Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (XStream Internet)MinnesotaFTTH ⁠— collaboration with telephone cooperative CTC
Roseau Electric CooperativeMinnesotaFTTH (announced) ⁠— collaboration with local telephone company
Alcorn County Electric Power Association (ACE Fiber)MississippiFTTH (announced)
Coast Electric Power Association (CoastConnect)MississippiFTTH (announced)
Delta Electric Power AssociationMississippiFTTH
Monroe County Electric Power Association (M-Pulse Fiber)MississippiFTTH (announced)
Natchez Trace Electric Power Association (NT Spark)MississippiFTTH
Northcentral Mississippi Electric Power Association (Northcentral Connect)MississippiFTTH
Northeast Mississippi Electric Power Association (North East Fiber, LLC/NE SPARC)MississippiFTTH
Pearl River Valley Electric Power Association (PearlComm Fiber)MississippiFTTH (Announced)
Prentiss County Electric Power AssociationMississippiFTTH (announced)
Singing River Electric Power Association (Singing River Connect)MississippiFTTH (pilot)
Southern Pine Electric Power AssociationMississippiFTTH
Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association (TVI-Fiber)MississippiFTTH (announced)
Tippah Electric Power AssociationMississippiFTTH (announced)
Tishomingo County Electric Power AssociationMississippiFTTH
Tombigbee Electric Power AssociationMississippiFTTH (announced)
Barry Electric Cooperative (goBEC)MissouriFTTH
Callaway Electric (Callabyte Technology)MissouriFTTH ⁠— collaboration with Kingdom Telephone Cooperative
Co-Mo Electric Cooperative (Co-Mo Connect)MissouriFTTH
Grundy Electric Cooperative (Mid-States Services)MissouriFTTH
Pemiscot Dunklin Electric Cooperative (Pemiscot Dunklin Fiber)MissouriFTTH
Ralls County Electric Cooperative (Ralls Technologies)MissouriFTTH
SEMO Electric Cooperative (GoSEMO Fiber)MissouriFTTH
United Electric Cooperative (United Fiber)MissouriFTTH
Crawford Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriFTTB & Transport Services
Gascoasage Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriFTTB & Transport Services
Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriFTTB & Transport Services
Intercounty Electric Cooperative Association / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriFTTB & Transport Services
Laclede Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriFTTB & Transport Services
Se-Ma-No Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriFTTB & Transport Services
Southwest Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriFTTB & Transport Services
Webster Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriFTTB & Transport Services
White River Valley Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriFTTB & Transport Services
Valley Electric Association (Valley Communications Association)NevadaFTTH
Continental Divide Electric Cooperative (Red Bolt Broadband)New MexicoFTTH
Kit Carson Electric Cooperative (Kit Carson Internet)New MexicoFTTH
Delaware County Electric CooperativeNew YorkFTTH ⁠— collaboration with local telephone companies
Otsego Electric Cooperative (OEConnect)New YorkFTTH
French Broad Electric Membership CorporationNorth CarolinaFTTH
Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation (Bluewave Communications NC)North CarolinaFTTH ⁠— collaboration with Horry Telephone Cooperative
Roanoke Electric Cooperative (Roanoke Connect)North CarolinaFTTH
Consolidated Electric CooperativeOhioFTTH
East Central Oklahoma Cooperative (ecoLINK)OklahomaFTTH (under construction)
Lake Region Electric Cooperative (Lake Region Technology & Communications)OklahomaFTTH
Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (Bolt Fiber Optic Services)OklahomaFTTH
Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC Fiber)OklahomaFTTH
Consumers Power (Peak Internet)OregonFTTP (open access network) ⁠— collaboration with Pioneer Consolidated and Stayton Cooperative Telephone Company
Central Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)OregonFTTB, Schools, & Transport Services
Douglas Electric Cooperative (Douglas Fast Net; LS Networks)OregonFTTH; FTTB, Schools, & Transport Services
Hood River Electric Cooperative (CACHE Communications; LS Networks)OregonFTTH; FTTB, Schools, & Transport Services
Umatilla Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)OregonFTTB, Schools, & Transport Services
West Oregon Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)OregonFTTB, Schools, & Transport Services
Sullivan County Rural Electric CooperativePennsylvaniaFTTH (announced)
Tri-County Rural Electric CooperativePennsylvaniaFTTH (announced)
Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative (Carolina Connect)South CarolinaFTTH
Newberry Electric Cooperative (Carolina Connect)South CarolinaFTTH ⁠— collaboration with Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative
Appalachian Electric CooperativeTennesseeFTTH
Cumberland Electric Membership Cooperative (Cumberland Connect)TennesseeFTTH (announced)
Forked Deer Electric Cooperative (Forked Deer Connect)TennesseeFTTH
Gibson Electric Membership Corporation (Gibson Connect)TennesseeFTTH
Holston Electric Cooperative (Holston Connect)TennesseeFTTH
Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative (MLConnect)TennesseeFTTH
Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEConnect)TennesseeFTTH
Tri-County Electric CooperativeTennesseeFTTH
Volunteer Electric Cooperative (Twin Lakes, powered by VEC)TennesseeFTTH ⁠— collaboratin with Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative
Bandera Electric Cooperative (BEC Fiber)TexasFTTH
Grayson Collin Electric Cooperative (Grayson Collin Communications)TexasFTTH
Guadalupe Valley Electric CooperativeTexasFTTH
Jackson Electric Cooperative (MyJEC.net)TexasFTTH & wireless with fiber backbone
Taylor Electric Cooperative (Access Fiber)TexasFTTH
Victoria Electric Cooperative (Infinium)TexasFTTH & wireless with fiber backbone
BARC Electric Cooperative (BARC Connects)VirginiaFTTH
Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (Firefly Broadband)VirginiaFTTH
Craig-Botetourt Electric CooperativeVirginiaFTTH (announced)
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (EMPOWER Broadband)VirginiaFTTH
Prince George Electric Cooperative (Ruralband)VirginiaFTTH
Columbia Rural Electric Association (Columbia iConnect)WashingtonFTTH Pilot Project
Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (Rock Island Communications)WashingtonFTTH
Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative (Ntera)WisconsinFTTH ⁠— collaboration with telephone cooperative Citizens Connected

Telephone Cooperatives

There are about 260 telephone cooperatives in the United States. Many provide Internet service as a natural extension of their existing infrastructure. Many started out by providing dial-up and DSL services, but only recently have begun to transition to Fiber-to-the-Home. Some have already transitioned to an all-fiber network, having upgraded everyone in their territory to fiber.

The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) has a gigabit certification program in order to draw attention to how many small telephone companies cooperatives have built these next-generation networks. 

Articles & Interviews

We have featured a number of these cooperatives on our website. Some cooperatives choose to work with local governments or electric cooperatives while others focus on providing service alone. Below is just a small selection of the many cooperatives that have built Fiber-to-the-Home networks. 

In Michigan, a rural telephone cooperative got its start in the early 2000s. The community went from sparse telephone service to state-of-the-art Internet service. Read more about Allband Communications Cooperatives unique story here.

Paul Bunyan Communications Cooperative in Minnesota has expanded their GigaZone throughout the northern half of the state, including Red Lake Nation.

In Missouri, Callaway Electric Cooperative and Kingdom Telephone Company (the local telephone co-op) teamed up to form a new company together called Callabyte Technology to deliver Fiber-to-the-Home service.

Episode 188 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast features Eric Cramer, the President and CEO of Wilkes Communications/RiverStreet Networks. He explained how the telephone cooperative has built a Fiber-to-the-Home network throughout several counties in northern North Carolina.

Read more in our archives.

The First Internet Cooperative

Cooperatives are not just telephone and electric. There is now a workable model for Internet cooperatives created from scratch. RS Fiber in Minnesota is the first cooperative formed for the express purpose of providing reliable, high-speed Internet service. 

We have extensive coverage of how RS Fiber started and the rural communities they have connected. Read more in our report RS Fiber Fertile Fields: New Rural Internet Cooperative.

 

More Resources

List of Gigabit Cooperatives

These cooperatives offer gigabit speeds to residents and/or businesses within their service areas. (Total: 210) (Last updated: 12/2019)

Gigabit CooperativeStateType
3 Rivers CommunicationsMontanaTelephone
Ace Telephone Association (Ace Communications or AcenTek)Minnesota, Michigan, IowaTelephone
Adams Telephone CooperativeIllinoisTelephone
Albany Mutual Telephone AssociationMinnesotaTelephone
Appalachian Electric CooperativeTennesseeElectric
Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative (WAVE Rural Connect)ArkansasElectric
Arthur Mutual Telephone CompanyOhioTelephone
Atlantic Telephone Membership CorporationNorth CarolinaTelephone
Ballard Rural Telephone Cooperative Corporation (Bringing Technology Closer)KentuckyTelephone
Bandera Electric Cooperative (BEC Fiber)TexasElectric
BARC Electric Cooperative (BARC Connects)VirginiaElectric
Barry Electric Cooperative (goBEC)MissouriElectric
Bascom CommunicationsOhioTelephone
BEK Communications Cooperative (BEK Lightband)North DakotaTelephone
Ben Lomand Rural Telephone Cooperative (Ben Lomand Connect)TennesseeeTelephone
Bledsoe Telephone CooperativeTennesseeeTelephone
Blue Valley TelecommunicationsKansasTelephone
Bulloch Telephone CooperativeGeorgiaTelephone
Callaway Electric Cooperative (Callabyte Technology) ⁠— collaboration with Kingdom Telephone CooperativeMissouriElectric and telephone
Canby Telephone Association (DirectLink)OregonTelephone
Central Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)OregonElectric
Central Texas Telephone CooperativeTexasTelephone
Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (Firefly Broadband)VirginiaElectric
Chariton Valley Telephone CorporationMissouriTelephone
Chequamegon Communications Cooperative (Norvado)WisconsinTelephone
Chibardun Telephone Cooperative (Mosaic Telecom)WisconsinTelephone
Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative (Ntera) ⁠— collaboration with telephone cooperative Citizens ConnectedWisconsinElectric and Telephone
Citizens ConnectedWisconsinTelephone
Citizens Mutual Telephone CooperativeIowaTelephone
Citizens Telephone CooperativeVirginiaTelephone
Citizens Telephone CooperativeWisconsinTelephone
Clay County Rural Telephone Cooperative (Endeavor Communications)IndianaTelephone
Co-Mo Electric Cooperative (Co-Mo Connect)MissouriElectric
Cochrane Cooperative Telephone CompanyWisconsinTelephone
Columbia Rural Electric Association (Columbia iConnect)WashingtonElectric
Columbus Telephone (Optic Communications)KansasTelephone
Consolidated Electric CooperativeOhioElectric
Consolidated TelcomNorth DakotaTelephone
Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC)MinnesotaTelephone
Cooperative Telephone ExchangeIowaTelephone
Copper Valley Telephone Cooperative (Copper Valley Telecom)AlaskaTelephone
Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation (Empower)ArkansasElectric
Craw Kan Telephone CooperativeKansasTelephone
Crawford Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriElectric
Custer Telephone Cooperative, Inc.IdahoTelephone
Dakota Central TelecommunicationsNorth DakotaTelephone
Danville Mutual Telephone Company (i-connect you)IowaTelephone
Daviess-Martin Rural Telephone Corporation (RTC Communications)IndianaTelephone
DeKalb Telephone Cooperative, IncTennesseeTelephone
Delaware County Electric CooperativeNew YorkElectric
Delta-Montrose Electric Association (Elevate Fiber)ColoradoElectric
Dickey Rural Telephone CooperativeNorth DakotaTelephone
Douglas Electric Cooperative (Douglas Fast Net; LS Networks)OregonElectric
Eastern New Mexico Rural Telephone Cooperative (Plateau Telecommunications)New MexicoTelephone
Eastern Oregon TelecomOregonTelephone
Ellsworth Cooperative Telephone AssociationIowaTelephone
Emery TelcomUtahTelephone
Emily Cooperative Telephone CompanyMinnesotaTelephone
Farmers Mutual Cooperative Telephone CompanyIowaTelephone
Farmers Mutual Telephone CompanyIowaTelephone
Farmers Mutual Telephone Company (Acira ⁠— partnership with Federated Telephone Cooperative)MinnesotaTelephone
Farmers Telecommunications CooperativeAlabamaTelephone
Farmers Telephone CooperativeSouth CarolinaTelephone
Federated Telephone Cooperative (Acira ⁠— partnership with Farmers Mutual Telephone Company)MinnesotaTelephone
Foothills Telephone Cooperative (Foothills Communications)KentuckyTelephone
Forked Deer Electric Cooperative (Forked Deer Connect)TennesseeElectric
French Broad Electric Membership CorporationNorth CarolinaElectric
Garden Valley Telephone Company (Garden Valley Technologies)MinnesotaTelephone
Gascoasage Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriElectric
Gervais Telephone Company (DataVision Cooperative)OregonTelephone
Gibson Electric Membership Corporation (Gibson Connect)TennesseeElectric
Golden Belt Telephone AssociationKansasTelephone
Grand River Mutual Telephone Corporation (GRM Networks)MissouriTelephone
Grayson Collin Electric Cooperative (Grayson Collin Communications)TexasElectric
Great Lakes Energy (Truestream)MississippiElectric
Griswold Cooperative Telephone Company (Griswold Communications)IowaTelephone
Grundy Electric Cooperative (Mid-States Services)MissouriElectric
Guadalupe Valley Electric CooperativeTexasElectric
Guadalupe Valley Telephone CooperativeTexasTelephone
Habersham Electric Membership Corporation (Trailwave; North Georgia Network Cooperative)GeorgiaElectric
Halstad Telephone CompanyMinnesotaTelephone
Highland Telephone CooperativeTennesseeTelephone
Hill Country Telephone CooperativeTexasTelephone
Holston Electric Cooperative (Holston Connect)TennesseeElectric
Hood River Electric Cooperative (CACHE Communications; LS Networks)OregonElectric
Horry Telephone CooperativeSouth CarolinaTelephone
Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriElectric
Huxley Communications CooperativeIowaTelephone
Intercounty Electric Cooperative Association / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriElectric
Jackson County Rural Elctric Membership Corporation (Jackson Connect)IndianaElectric
Jefferson Energy Cooperative ⁠— collaboration with Pineland Telephone CooperativeGeorgiaElectric and Telephone
Jo-Carrol Energy (Sand Prairie)IllinoisElectric
Johnson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation ⁠— collaboration with NineStar ConnectIndianaElectric and telephone
Kalona Cooperative Technology CompanyIowaTelephone
Kingdom Telephone CompanyMissouriTelephone
Laclede Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriElectric
Lake Region Electric Cooperative (Lake Region Technology & Communications)OklahomaElectric
LaValle Telephone CooperativeWisconsinTelephone
Leaco Rural Telephone CooperativeNew MexicoTelephone
Lehigh Valley Cooperative Telephone AssociationIowaTelephone
Logan Telephone CooperativeKentuckyTelephone
Maquoketa Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (MVLink)IowaElectric
Marquette-Adams Telephone CooperativeWisconsinTelephone
Matanuska Telephone AssociationAlaskaTelephone
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (EMPOWER Broadband)VirginiaElectric
Meriweather Lewis Electric Cooperative (MLConnect)TennesseeElectric
Mid Century Telephone Cooperative (Mid Century Communications)IllinoisTelephone
Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative (Carolina Connect)South CarolinaElectric
Mid-Rivers Telephone Cooperative (Mid-Rivers Communications)MontanaTelephone
Midstate CommunicationsSouth DakotaTelephone
Midwest Energy Cooperative (Midwest Energy and Communications)MichiganElectric
Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (XStream Internet) ⁠— collaboration with CTCMinnesotaElectric and telephone
Molalla Telephone Company (Molalla Communications)OregonTelephone
Mountain Rural Telephone Cooperative CorporationKentuckyTelephone
Nelson Communications Cooperative (Ntec)WisconsinTelephone
Nemont Telephone CooperativeMontanaTelephone
New Hope Telephone CooperativeAlabamaTelephone
New Lisbon Telephone CompanyIndianaTelephone
Newberry Electric Cooperative (Carolina Connect)South CarolinaElectric
NineStar Connect (merger between Central Indiana Power and Hancock Telecom)IndianaElectric and telephone
North Alabama Electric CooperativeAlabamaElectric
North Arkansas Electric Cooperative (NEXT)ArkansasElectric
North Central Telephone CooperativeTennessee and KentuckyTelephone
North Dakota Telephone CompanyNorth DakotaTelephone
Northeast Nebraska Telephone CompanyNebraskaTelephone
Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (Bolt Fiber Optic Services)OklahomaElectric
Northwest Communications CooperativeNorth DakotaTelephone
Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC Fiber)OklahomaElectric
Orange County Rural Electric Membership CorporationIndianaElectric
Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (Rock Island Communications)WashingtonElectric
Otsego Electric Cooperative (OEConnect)New YorkElectric
Ouachita Electric Cooperative (ARIS)ArkansasElectric
Ozarks Electric Cooperative (OzarksGo)ArkansasElectric
Palmetto Rural Telephone CompanySouth CarolinaTelephone
Panhandle Telephone Cooperative, Inc.OklahomaTelephone
Panora Communications CooperativeIowaTelephone
Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone CooperativeMinnesotaTelephone
Peak Internet ⁠(partnership between Pioneer Consolidated, Consumers Power, and Stayton Cooperative Telephone Company)OregonElectric and telephone
Pemiscot Dunklin Electric CooperativeMissouriElectric
Peoples Rural Telephone CooperativeKentuckyTelephone
Peoples TelecommunicationsKansasTelephone
Perry-Spencer Rural Telephone Cooperative (Perry-Spencer Communications)IndianaTelephone
Phillips County Telephone Company (PC Telcom)ColoradoTelephone
Pineland Telephone CooperativeGeorgiaTelephone
Pioneer Telephone CooperativeOklahomaTelephone
Plains Cooperative Telephone AssociationColoradoTelephone
Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative (Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications)CaliforniaElectric
Polar Communications Mutual Aid CorporationNorth DakotaTelephone
Prince George Electric Cooperative (Ruralband)VirginiaElectric
Rainbow Telecommunications Association (Rainbow Communications)KansasTelephone
Ralls County Electric Cooperative (Ralls Technologies)MissouriElectric
Randolph Telephone Membership Corporation (Randoph Communications)North CarolinaTelephone
Range Telephone Cooperative (RT Communications)Montana, WyomingTelephone
Red River Rural Telephone AssociationNorth DakotaTelephone
Reservation Telephone CooperativeNorth DakotaTelephone
Richland-Grant Telephone CooperativeWisconsinTelephone
Runestone Telecom AssociationMinnesotaTelephone
Rural Telephone Service Cooperative (Nex-Tech)KansasTelephone
San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (Ciello)ColoradoElectric
Scio Mutual Telephone AssociationOregonTelephone
Se-Ma-No Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriElectric
SEMO Electric Cooperative (GoSEMO Fiber)MissouriElectric
Sequatchee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEConnect)TennesseeElectric
Sherwood Mutual Telephone AssociationOhioTelephone
Skyline Telephone Membership Corporation (SkyBest Communications)North CarolinaTelephone
South Central Arkansas Electric Cooperative (South Central Connect)ArkansasElectric
South Central Indiana Rural Electric Membership CorporationIndianaElectric
South Central Rural Telephone CooperativeKentuckyTelephone
South Central Utah Telephone Association (South Central Communications)UtahTelephone
South Slope Cooperative CommunicationsIowaTelephone
Southeast Colorado Power Association (SECOM)ColoradoElectric
Southwest Arkansas Telephone CooperativeArkansasTelephone
Southwest Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriElectric
SRT CommunicationsNorth DakotaTelephone
Star Telephone Membership Corporation (Star Communications)North CarolinaTelephone
Surry Communications Membership CooperationNorth CarolinaTelephone
Taylor Electric Cooperative (Access Fiber)TexasElectric
The Ottoville Mutual Telephone CompanyOhioTelephone
Tipmont Rural Electric Membership Corporation (Wintek)IndianaElectric
Tombigbee Electric Cooperative (freedom FIBER)AlabamaElectric
Tri-County Communications CooperativeWisconsinElectric
Tri-County Electric CooperativeTennesseeElectric
Tri-County Electric Cooperative (HomeWorks Connect)MichiganElectric
Tri-County Telephone AssociationKansasElectric
Tri-County Telephone Membership Corporation (RiverStreet Networks)North CarolinaTelephone
Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative CorporationTennesseeTelephone
UBTA-UBET Communications, also known as Strata NetworksColorado, Utah, and WyomingTelephone
Umatilla Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)OregonElectric
United Electric Cooperative (United Fiber)MissouriElectric
United Telephone Mutual Aid Corporation (Turtle Mountain Communications)North DakotaTelephone
Valley Electric Association (Valley Communications Association)NevadaElectric
Valley TelecommunicationsSouth DakotaTelephone
Venture Communications CooperativeSouth DakotaTelephone
Vernon Communications CooperativeWisconsinTelephone
Victoria Electric Cooperative (Infinium)TexasElectric
Volunteer Electric Cooperative (Twin Lakes, powered by VEC)TennesseeElectric and telephone
Wabash Communications CooperativeIllinoisTelephone
Wabash Mutual Telephone CompanyOhioTelephone
Washington County Rural Telephone Cooperative (Tele-media Solutions)IndianaTelephone
Webster Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriElectric
Webster-Calhoun Cooperative Telephone AssociationIowaTelephone
West Carolina Rural Telephone Cooperative (West Carolina Tel)South CarolinaTelephone
West Central Telephone AssociationMinnesotaTelephone
West Kentucky and Tennessee Communications CooperativeKentucky, TennesseeTelephone
West Oregon Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)OregonElectric
West River Telecommunications CooperativeNorth Dakota and South DakotaTelephone
West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative (24-7 Telcom)WisconsinTelephone
White River Valley Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)MissouriElectric
Wiggins Telephone Association (Blue Lightning)ColoradoTelephone
Wilkes Telephone Membership Corporation (RiverStreet Networks)North CarolinaTelephone
Yampa Valley Electric Association (Luminate Broadband)ColoradoElectric
Yucca Telecommunications SystemsNew MexicoTelephone

Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episodes

Listen to our collection of Community Broadband Bits Podcasts to learn firsthand about how electric cooperatives have made the decision to provide Internet service.

#TitleSummaryGuestTranscript
383
11/19/2019
Tri-County Rural Electric Delivering Connectivity, Expanding Partnerships, in AppalachiansCo-op finds funding, partners to build broadband network demanded by membersCraig EccherTranscript 383
369
8/13/2019
South Dakota Fiber All About the LocalCo-ops, cities, locally-owned companies, and tribal ISPs invest in rural South DakotaGreg DeanTranscript 369
358
5/28/2019
Firefly Fiber All the Buzz in Central VirginiaCentral Virginia Electric Co-op's new fiber project and how members are embracing better connectivityMelissa Gay and Gary WoodTranscript 358
344
2/19/2019
Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative Steps Up, Offers FTTH in Missouri's BootheelPemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative's FTTH project in rural Missouri and how the environment impacted network designJack DavisTranscript 344
342
2/5/2019
RiverStreet Networks Reaching Across Rural North CarolinaCo-op partners with other co-ops and communities to connect rural N.C.Greg ColtrainTranscript 342
324
9/25/2018
Great Lakes Energy's Big Plan for Big FiberLargest electric co-op in Michigan is deploying a FTTH networkShari CulverTranscript 324
321
9/4/2018
Analyzing the Auction With Jonathan ChambersResults of the Connect America Fund Phase II auction, including a strong showing by electric co-opsJonathan ChambersTranscript 321
314
7/17/2018
DMEA Co-op Serving Up Broadband and Innovation in ColoradoThe Delta Montrose Electric Association fiber deployment in ColoradoJohn Gavan and Brad HardingTranscript 314
288
1/9/2018
North Dakota's Exceptional Fiber NetworksNorth Dakota has low population density, but many fiber cooperativesRobin AndersonTranscript 288
277
11/1/2017
Kit Carson Fibers up New MexicoElectric Cooperative builds fiber network in rural New MexicoLuis ReyesTranscript 277
276
10/24/2017
Allband All-in For Rural Michigan Internet AccessFolks build a cooperative from scratch in rural MichiganRon SiegelTranscript 276
249
4/19/2017
Rural Electric Co-ops as Reluctant Warriors for BroadbandThe challenges and decisions that rural electric cooperatives faceAlyssa Clemsen-RobertsTranscript 249

243

3/7/2017

What's NEXT in North Arkansas?North Arkansas Electric Cooperative's pilot project for high-speed Internet serviceMel ColemanTranscript 243

240

2/14/2017

United Fiber Tackles Missouri's Most RuralThe demand for better, faster connections and the role of rural electric cooperativesDarren FarnanTranscript 240

229

11/22/2016

Rural Electrics Solve Rural Internet Access ProblemsFormer head of FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis on politics and rural connectivityJon ChambersTranscript 229

225

10/25/2016

Midwest Energy Cooperative Connects Rural MichiganA rural electric cooperative provides fiber connectivityBob Hance and Dave AllenTranscript 225

224

10/18/2016

H.R. Trostle on Co-Ops, Munis, Connectivity in North CarolinaILSR Research Associate discusses North Carolina and Internet accessH.R. TrostleTranscript 224

203

5/25/2016

Tennessee Potential Partnership Between Morristown Muni and AEC Co-opMorristown Tennessee, and the local electric co-op are teaming up to deliver needed servicesJody Wigington and Greg WilliamsTranscript 203

198

4/19/2016

A New Cooperative Model for Fiber to the FarmThe RS Fiber Cooperative steals the spotlight with its new cooperative modelMark Erickson and Jake RiekeTranscript 198

188

2/9/2016

North Carolina Co-op Fibers Up Rural Counties and MoreWhat does it take for a telephone co-op in North Carolina to provide FTTH? President and CEO of Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks explainsEric CramerTranscript 188

140

3/3/2015

Rural Electric Co-Mo Co-op Goes GigDiscussion on how Co-Mo electric co-op in rural Missouri structured broadband network and its objective to enter the business and resultsRandy KlindtTranscript 140

99

5/20/2014

Catching Up with the RS Fiber Co-op in MinnesotaUpdate on the RS Fiber Co-op project in MinnesotaMark Erickson and Cindy GerholzTranscript 99

92

4/1/2014

Understanding the Georgia Communications CooperativeDiscussion on how cooperatives work together and expand the regional network in Georgia and challenges to connect rural premises with fiber opticsMike FoorTranscript 92

46

5/14/2013

North Georgia Network Brings Gig to Schools, Jobs to RegionThe origin of the North Georgia Network and its economic and social impact on the regionPaul BelkTranscript 46

Image Credits:

Rural Barn Flag, woodleywonderworks, Creative Commons license

Minnesota House Chamber, Chris Gaukel, Creative Commons license

Wooden Pole, dimitrisvetsikas1969, Public Domain

Saving Public Safety Dollars With Public Utility In Greeneville

When Greeneville Light & Power System (GLPS) started bringing better connectivity to the local school system, it improved educational opportunities for kids in the Tennessee community. Now, the municipal utility plans to use the same approach to save lives by connecting emergency responders across the county.

Sparsely Populated

Rural Greene County, Tennessee, can’t attract national providers to invest in high-quality connectivity because it doesn’t have the population density ISPs look for to justify investment. According to GLPS General Manager Bill Carroll, the utility serves an average of 17 or 18 customers per mile. Greene County is approximately 650 square miles. Without a reason to bring better infrastructure to serve residential customers, national ISPs aren’t there to provide services to the police or sheriff facilities either.

GLPS will bring connectivity to Greene County 911, the Greenville Police Department, and the Greene County Sheriff’s Department. Each entity will pay for the construction of the fiber network to their facilities and pay a monthly fee to GLPS. The rate for their connectivity is based on a “per-mile” calculation, which allows GLPS to cover their costs; GLPS charges the school system the same way. Greeneville City Schools are saving approximately $50,000 per year, a significant savings in a town of 15,000 people.

GLPS will not act as an Internet Service Provider, but will allow public safety departments to cut down on expenses by eliminating leased lines. More importantly, the new network will be creating reliable connections. Greenville Police Department Captain Mike Crum said, “This partnership will truly save lives. That is a very difficult aspect to quantify when conducting a cost analysis.”

What The Future Holds

GLPS has no plans to expand their approach to serve residents and businesses throughout the county, but they haven’t ruled it out:

Carroll and his staff are assessing to determine if a project of that magnitude could be feasible and said they will bring that information to the Power Board as it becomes available.

Tri-County Electric in Tennessee To Build High-Speed Network

On the border of Tennessee and Kentucky, an electric cooperative looks to a more connected future. The Tri-County Electric Cooperative that operates across state lines is preparing to build a state-of-the-art network for high-speed Internet service throughout Trousdale County, Tennessee. This will be the first year of construction for the cooperative after several years of planning.

Tri-County Electric plans to soon begin services to Trousdale County, the smallest county in Tennessee. Many of the county's 8,000 residents' choice is limited to Comcast and AT&T, and Tri-County Electric's Vice-President and General Manager Paul Thompson noted that people in the county often only subscribe to about 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. With a steady membership base of 50,000 spread across two states and a close relationship with the county, the electric co-op is in a good position to move forward with the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project. The cooperative intends to offer an affordable base package that provides faster, more reliable connectivity than what the incumbents are willing to offer the rural communities.

Funding From The Feds

Since 2014, Tri-County Electric Cooperative has actively pursued financing for a FTTH network in the county. The co-op applied for a grant through the Rural Broadband Experiments program managed by the Federal Communications Commission. They did not receive any funding, but the process resulted in a tangible plan.

The process of applying for the grant built up community support for the project and enabled the co-op to identify key assets. As part of the grant application, they noted which census blocks they expected to connect and what community anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, and government buildings, could be included. The Trousdale County government even passed a resolution giving explicit permission for Tri-County Electric to build and operate a FTTH network. 

One Touch Make Ready: Model Language In Three Cities And Counting...

One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) policies are recognized as a way to cut down on the expense and the time it takes to deploy fiber optic networks. At least three sizable urban communities have adopted OTMR practices to streamline fiber optic construction and ensure consistent standards. For other communities looking at ways to encourage brisk fiber optic investment, it pays to study the language of OTMR resolutions and policies.

OTMR allows a pre-approved contractor to move cables belonging to more than one entity on one visit to the pole to make room for the new fiber optic cable. This is a departure from the old method, in which each entity takes turns visiting the pole in question to move only their wires. The old approach is time consuming because each entity must take turns in the order in which their wires are installed on the poles. If one entity causes a delay, every other entity that needs to work after them must also wait. What follows is a snowball effect and an entire project can fall far behind schedule.

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio’s municipal utility, CPS Energy, adopted a broad set of pole attachment standards that include specific requirements for OTMR, including what needs to happen before, during, and after the process.

The standards lay out administrative procedures, technical provisions, and specific provisions for both wired and wireless attachments. It incorporates recommendations from the FCC on how best to expand broadband while also weaving in safety standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In the introduction, CPS Energy writes:

From a holistic perspective, the Standards seek to balance the competing needs and interests of multiple communications providers to access and utilize CPS Energy Poles, while at the same time recognizing that the core purpose and function of these Poles is for CPS Energy’s safe and reliable distribution and delivery of electric services to CPS Energy customers. Hence, any use of CPS Energy’s Poles must at all times ensure the continued operational integrity, safety and reliability of CPS Energy’s Facilities, electric services, personnel and the general public.