Four executives from electric coops took center stage last week during ADTRAN Connect, depicting a region largely left alone by commercial carriers due to the cost of deployment and support. And this week, ADTRAN is again focusing on rural America with new deals.
Across the countryside, where acres separate houses and drivers cruise for miles without seeing another vehicle, the cost of delivering fiber-to-the-home is impractical for commercial operators. But just as they once brought electricity to regions unserved by public utilities, today's electric coops increasingly deliver high-speed FTTH to their members.
Fiber is expensive, after all, and operators have fiscal responsibilities to shareholders and employees, and the need to invest in infrastructures, new technologies and expensive content, said Steve Foshee, CEO of Tombigbee Electric Coop. But since coops are owned by and for their members, they have different rules.
In the case of Tombigbee Electric, it began connecting the first of its current roster of 2,500 customers in September 2017 and adds about 100 per month. Tombigbee is between 25% and 35% built out and has spent $16 million on the fiber broadband deployment; ultimately it expects to invest between $40 million and $45 million, Foshee said.
"We've got 450 miles constructed and 4,500 to go," he said. "We'll go down to two customers per mile. When we go down to two customers per mile, we're going to lose a ton of money. We know it."
Of the 44 million residents of rural America, 31% do not have access to home Internet that meets the minimum standard of 25Mbit/s download, 3Mbit/s upload, said Heather Gold, former president of the Fiber Broadband Association (and current board member), during ADTRAN Connect And there is no guarantee existing networks are future-proof, making it probably rural residents will lag further behind once gigabit broadband is available in all cities and suburbs and 5G arrives, she added.
FiberRise offers an array of services to complement coops' internal strengths and staffs; they include engineering and design, business services and chief technology officer. The coops plan to use ADTRAN's Total Access 5000 Gigabit services architecture, an open and scalable approach that provides future proofing and flexibility.
"We know how key fiber broadband is to the economic development of our community. It’s our aim to ensure affordable access to gig service for our members that wish to have it," said ADTRAN Connect panelist and NAEC General Manager Bruce Purdy.
NAEC, which has been installing fiber since 2014, has an average 8.5 customers per mile of line for a total of 5,000 -- and the implementation of broadband allowed businesses to start or reopen and allows families to move back home or relocate to the countryside and telecommute to city jobs.
"You're always going to have the people who want to come back home," Purdy said. "This is what allowed them to do it."
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