“Holy Cat Biscuits!” — Largest Electric Co-op in Michigan Is Building a Gig Network for Its Members

Great Lakes Energy (GLE), Michigan’s largest electric cooperative and third largest energy utility, is constructing a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to bring gigabit connectivity to its 125,000 members. Construction in the project’s pilot area is underway. Eligible members may be able to subscribe to services from the co-op’s subsidiary Truestream as soon as the end of the year.

Truestream Off to A Quick Start

GLE shared on its website that the co-op decided to build the Truestream network because members expressed a need for better connectivity in rural Michigan.

At the end of 2017, the co-op’s Board of Directors approved the planned fiber project. Board approval came after three feasibility studies, commissioned by GLE and its power supplier, Wolverine Power Cooperative, concluded that a broadband network would be a responsible investment for the co-op. Bill Scott, President and CEO of GLE, wrote in Michigan Country Lines that this conclusion was “based in part on GLE’s very positive satisfaction rating… [and] on surveys done by GLE and Wolverine that show a high demand for high-speed, reasonably priced, Internet service.”

GLE began constructing the first portion of the Truestream network earlier this year. For the initial pilot, the co-op is focusing on the Petoskey service district, which includes Emmet County and parts of Charlevoix and Cheboygan Counties. An online FAQ explains this region was selected because it’s representative of the varying terrain, density, level of connectivity, and type of membership found throughout GLE’s service territory. Some homes could be online by the end of 2018.

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State Representatives Lee Chatfield and Tristan Cole joined the co-op at a July 26th ribbon cutting ceremony to congratulate GLE on connecting the rural counties. Representatives from local government, regional organizations, and educational institutions also attended the celebration.

Service Details

After the co-op completes the fiber optic network, residential members will be able to subscribe to Internet service with symmetrical speeds of up to one Gigabit per second (Gbps). That is one hundred times faster than what local families currently have access to on average. Internet services will be available at three speed tiers:

  • 100 Mbps symmetrical for $59.99/month
  • 200 Mbps symmetrical for $69.99/month
  • 1 Gbps symmetrical for $99.99/month

Subscription fees include a Wi-Fi router. Telephone services will also be available for $34.99 per month, and residents who subscribe to both telephone and Internet services will receive $5 off monthly costs. More details are available online.

Truestream is currently offering services only to residential members of GLE, but would like to extend Internet services to businesses as well. Truestream may also consider serving non-members who are located along the fiber route, but the priority is to connect co-op members.

Benefits for Co-op and Members

After suffering from expensive, unreliable, and slow Internet access for so long, members of GLE are looking forward to improved connectivity in the region. On the Truestream website, one member commented,

“I was so excited to see this that I actually ended up registering twice by accident. I previously [had] CenturyLink DSL and was getting .28 Mbps . . . I switched to Hughes Net and we are currently paying more than your highest rate for . . . on average somewhere between 7 Mbps and 15 Mbps.”

Another member was just as thrilled by the prospect of faster Internet service:

“Holy cat biscuits! I can't express how exciting this is. I currently have fiber installed to my residence in Petoskey, which is CRAZY expensive. Who could imagine the connection at my farm in Brutus would be better and cheaper!“

In addition to improving the quality of life for rural communities, GLE says the fiber network will enable the co-op to better monitor the electric grid and quickly respond to outages. Other electric co-ops, like Ouachita Electric Cooperative in Arkansas and Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in New Mexico, have also used their fiber networks for smart grid technology. With the upgraded technology, even members who choose not to subscribe to Trustream Internet access will benefit with better electric service.

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Buildout and Beyond

To minimize financial risk, the co-op will base the decision of where to expand after the pilot is completed largely on community demand. Members can express interest by pre-registering on the Truestream site. To increase the chances that the fiber network will rollout in their community next, residents can sign up as “champions” and promote Truestream to their friends and neighbors.

The co-op is committed to bringing high-speed connectivity to every community where there is enough interest to make the fiber network financially viable. GLE states, “Our goal is to build fiber throughout our service area, just like electricity.”

To learn more about co-ops connecting rural communities across the country, visit our Rural Cooperatives page.

Image of Avalanche Mountain in Charlevoix County courtesy of Remax of Michigan.