North Alabama Electric Cooperative
As a response to increasing unemployment levels and business closures during the 2008 financial crisis, NAEC applied for and received funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The project was completed in three years and had a stronger subscriber rate than expected, especially among the elderly. This grant allowed them to cover a service area of 8.5 customers per mile, which Charter and AT&T had previously deemed too low-density to serve. NAEC made the project fiscally possible by keeping fiber and electric in one service area, using the higher internet speeds to enhance its electric operations, and sharing administrative costs. There have not been many regulatory issues reported, with the exception of pole attachment.
REC’s primary goal was to increase the efficiency of its electricity delivery services by deploying a “smart grid” using the existing fiber backbone that is already available to electric utility districts. The project also included the installation of smart thermostats and water heater controls to save residents money on bills. Because of this, the response to the project has been positive. They financed it with a Community Development Block Grant. Currently, they are exploring future funding opportunities to keep subscription costs low, and are also exploring telemedicine, K-12 STEM education programs, and opportunities to engage in higher learning.
BRE serves 75,000 customers in a mountainous region of up to 6,600 feet above sea level. Unlike other case studies, its project – a private subsidiary called RidgeLink – is not focused on retail broadband to individual customers, selling instead to community anchor institutions such as libraries, schools,and community centers, as well as businesses. Because fiber-optic cable is extremely expensive and difficult to install in the mountains, BRE opted for using existing dark fiber capacity and wireless. They report no debt from the project.
Not only is it possible for cooperatives to sell broadband to their customers, but’s been done in a variety of ways, funded by a number of different grants and business plans. Broadband has been immensely popular with customers, not only because it helps people get internet, but also because it supports the speedy and efficient delivery of electricity, reduces heat and water bills, and increases access to education. Large pots of government funding are available for this purpose, allowing cooperatives a chance to build without losing money.It’s a great way to improve quality of life for customers and help the service area’s economy!