Rural electric cooperatives have decades of experience in providing essential services. Now several are looking to improve Internet access in unserved and underserved regions. In central Missouri, Barry Electric Cooperative and Co-Mo Cooperative have already started by providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet service. Another Missouri electric co-op, Callaway Electric Cooperative, is also getting into the business.
The co-op’s subsidiary, Callaway Electric Service, aims to offer FTTH in Callaway County and has teamed up with the local telephone co-op’s subsidiary, Kingdom Technology Solutions. Together, they will operate the partnership as Callabyte Technology.
Increasing Speeds and Access
Callabyte Technology will offer symmetrical Internet access speeds (i.e. the same upload and download speed). They will also offer telephone and video service as a triple-play package. Their “basic” speed is 100 Megabits per second (Mbps), four times faster than the FCC’s current download speed for the definition of broadband (25 Mbps download and 3 Mpbs upload). Prices are competitive:
- $65 for 100 Mbps
- $75 for 500 Mbps
- $95 for a Gigabit (1000 Megabits) per second
In the fall of 2015, they began a pilot project in a small section of Callaway Electric Cooperative’s service area, which took place in the Stonehaven Subdivision near Fulton, Missouri. Telecompetitor reported that the project had a 50 percent take rate.
Sharing Expertise and Profit
Each partner brings expertise in specific areas of the project. Callaway Electric Service is building the mainline infrastructure, while Kingdom Technology Solutions will manage customer connections, such as drops to the home and customer equipment. Kingdom Telephone Company, their telephone co-op, has provided FTTH since late 2014 so they have plenty of experience with fiber.
The Kingdom Telephone Company began providing telephone service to Callaway and Montgomery Counties in 1954. Callaway Electric Cooperative began serving Callaway County in 1936 and now also serves portions of Montgomery County. The two have agreed to share any profit from Callabyte Technology based on each entity's investment in the venture.
Collaboration between electric and telephone co-ops makes sense as a way to share expertise, resources, and risk. Rural co-ops do not have to enter into the Internet connectivity business alone as each typically has specialized knowledge, equipment, and additional assets. By joining forces each cooperative can expand Internet access to their members.