Electric cooperatives have a unique opportunity to serve your community’s broadband communication needs. Adding photons to your existing business selling electrons. You can invest in a fiber access technology that addresses the needs of your internal network and meets the growing demands for advanced new services your members will want and your community will need.
Broadband is the new foundation of economic viability
Rural America has seen a series of technologies that have made it economical to live and work outside urban areas. Railroads made it possible to ship harvests to population centers. The automobile and highways reduced travel times between nearby communities of interest. Electricity brought modern standards of living like refrigeration to rural residents. Telephones eliminated the isolation of living in low density areas. These technologies all started out as luxuries, but soon became necessities for conducting business and in people’s daily lives. Broadband is fast becoming a new necessity.
Businesses need power AND broadband
Today, businesses have the need for reliable, low-cost electrical power and high capacity broadband. As they grow and expand, the decision criteria for selecting the locations for new facilities are based on the best options available include these important resources. This need for electrical and broadband access creates a natural synergy between the traditional role of electric cooperatives in serving rural businesses and creating the ability to serve the new demands businesses have for broadband in these same areas.
Broadband = Jobs
Where business locates or expands, jobs follow. As farming has become more efficient and less labor intensive, employment opportunities in rural areas have declined. Unfortunately, rural areas that lack adequate broadband risk losing out as businesses and residents base their decisions on the ability to connect.
A rural area lacking broadband sets up a vicious cycle where businesses and virtual employees are not willing to expand or locate, which leads to fewer jobs, which leads to fewer people able or willing to live in the area. Broadband is a fundamental driver in reversing this cycle, which explains why it is so appealing to many rural communities.
For many of these communities, the first step is having adequate broadband to community institutions, such as schools, hospitals and libraries. In underserved rural areas, these anchor institutions become a central point where citizens can gain access to the internet and its opportunities. The next step is to extend this availability throughout the community – touching ideally all residences and businesses.
All modern communication networks utilize fiber, but the key is where the fiber changes to some other media-be it twisted pair in the case of DSL, coax in the case of cable and wireless in the case of cellular. In fiber-to-the-home networks the fiber goes all the way to the premises – be it a home, business or school. DSL, cable and cellular all have weaknesses unique to their technology when compared fiber-to-the-home.
This is why fiber has become the media of choice in rural areas. Fiber all the way to the home initially costs more to deploy, but once deployed, the network is good for decades to come. Today, the systems being deployed are capable of speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second, both downstream and upstream. In addition to being “future proof”, fiber-to-the-home is highly complementary with electric cooperatives’ infrastructure and skill sets. Since fiber is immune to electrical interference, fiber can be lashed to or combined with existing power cables in the utility portion of the coop’s infrastructure. Substations can be leveraged to house Optical Line Terminals (OLTs) which serve as the serving office for the FTTH network. Since fiber is being extended to substations in grid modernization initiatives, fiber deployments are consistent with other operations oriented initiatives at electric cooperatives.
Starting a new business isn’t easy. To offer broadband services requires an electric utility to step out of its comfort zone. While electric cooperatives bring a unique set of skills and assets that are surprisingly well suited to deploying fiber-to-the-home, it still requires a steep learning curve
Luckily there are many resources available to help with business case formulation, network design and construction. Some electric coops have taken on the job of building and operating the network themselves, others have partnered with existing service providers to ensure their members have the services they need, without the coop becoming a broadband services provider.
As fiber-to-the-home has rolled out across the U.S. over the past ten years, a large ecosystem developed that allows coops to decide which parts of the network they feel comfortable doing and which they prefer to work with a partner.
Today, over twenty electric coops are working with Calix and other partners to rollout broadband services to their members.
Why electric cooperatives are uniquely positioned to offer fiber broadband in rural areas.