In the past few years, we've seen a rising trend of electrical cooperatives (co-ops) utilizing their existing resources and know-how to bring broadband internet access to underconnected regions.
Originally, electrical co-ops were established to provide electricity to rural and remote communities that larger utility companies often ignored. These co-ops are usually owned and managed by the customers they serve, with a focus on delivering reliable and affordable electricity.
As the significance of internet connectivity grows in today's digital world, many rural areas continue to lack access to high-speed internet services. Recognizing this need, some electrical co-ops have started to explore the possibility of extending their services to include broadband internet.
By leveraging their existing infrastructure, such as power lines, utility poles, and substations, electrical co-ops can expand their reach to offer internet services. This method is often referred to as "Fiber-to-the-Home" (FTTH) or "Fiber-to-the-Premises" (FTTP), where fiber optic cables are installed to provide high-speed internet access directly to homes and businesses.
Several benefits come with electrical co-ops entering the internet service provider (ISP) market. Firstly, they already have a well-established customer base and a deep understanding of the communities they serve. This familiarity allows them to adapt their internet services to meet the specific needs of their customers.
Moreover, electrical co-ops are often nonprofit entities, meaning their primary goal is to serve their members and the community rather than maximizing profits. This can result in more affordable pricing, improved customer service, and a commitment to bridging the digital divide in underserved areas.
Transforming an electrical co-op to deliver internet services can involve significant investment in infrastructure, such as laying fiber optic cables and upgrading network equipment. However, some co-ops have managed to secure funding through grants like the BEAD program*, loans, or partnerships with other organizations to support these expansion efforts.
Additionally, the decreasing costs of technology in many networking products can make this option more appealing. Software with white-box networking, often a fraction of the price of traditional networking solutions, can open up economic options and help drive business decisions to offer data services.
By adopting white box networking, co-ops can take advantage of the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of commodity hardware while maintaining control and customization over their network infrastructure. With white box switches and routers, co-ops can tailor their network to meet specific requirements, optimize performance, and scale according to their needs. This level of customization enables co-ops to efficiently deliver data services to their members.
White box networking also offers programmability and automation capabilities, empowering co-ops to streamline network management, reduce operational costs, and quickly deploy new services.
It's crucial to note that the transition to becoming an internet service provider may vary for each electrical co-op. Some co-ops may choose to build and operate their broadband networks, while others may partner with existing ISPs or utilize a combination of strategies to deliver internet services effectively.
Kevin Myers, Senior Network Architect with IP ArchiTechs, said, "I believe Electric Co-Ops are ideally positioned to capitalize on this opportunity because they have experience in infrastructure, heavy construction, and the necessary components to become an ISP, as well as managing a utility-type infrastructure with customers and subscribers."
In conclusion, the involvement of electrical co-ops in providing broadband internet services reflects their commitment to community development and addressing the digital divide in underserved areas. This trend showcases the potential for leveraging existing infrastructure and local expertise to bridge the gap in internet access and contribute to the overall economic and social well-being of rural communities.
Chief Marketing and Product Officer, IP Infusion
As Chief Marketing and Product Officer (CMO), Kelly LeBlanc is responsible for global marketing and product management at IP Infusion. Kelly is a seasoned Silicon Valley marketing executive with 25 years of experience across multiple technology markets. Most recently Kelly was the CMO of Pica8 where she managed global marketing for the company’s enterprise and data center software solutions.
Chief Marketing Officer, EPS Global
Chief Marketing Officer
Senior Network Architect, IP ArchiTechs
A 21-year veteran of service provider, large enterprise and data center networking, Kevin spends his time leading the network architecture and operations team for IP ArchiTechs. Acting as a senior escalation point for the team with a primary focus in advanced routing and switching, he often works on complex issues and designs. Outreach into the networking community is a large part of his work through blogging, podcasts and contributions to various forums and slack channels. An avid presenter, Kevin has spoken at a number of conferences globally as a subject matter expert on network engineering and design.