Franklin, Kentucky’s (pop. 8,400) electric utility is gearing up for an expansion of its partnership with Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WRECC) with the help of $2.3 million from the recent FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The new partnership will allow Franklin EPB to add new service to roughly 250 locations adjacent to a current project in the area.
The expansion project will add subscribers in the northeast region of Simpson County and nearby parts of the city of Franklin in the south-central part of the state, where the two entities are operating a two-area fiber pilot.
It represents the growth of a collaboration between Franklin EPB and the electric cooperative. In 2019, the two partnered up to deploy service with Franklin EPB leasing dark fiber from the cooperative and acting as service provider to “350 of its customers in northeast Simpson County and in an area on the southeast side of Franklin.” The project brought symmetrical 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) and 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) options for $60 and $80/month to those locations and has brought service to a lot of happy members.
“Providing high-speed Internet [access] in rural areas has been and continues to be an important issue nationwide. Fortunately, we have been able to develop a successful model with Franklin EPB. We’re delighted to be able to expand our service in Simpson County immediately thanks to the RDOF funding,” said Dewayne McDonald, President and CEO of Warren RECC, at the announcement. He continued to emphasize that "part of our mission is to improve the quality of life for our members. This expansion represents a giant leap in progress for them, and we’re excited about the momentum. For the areas we didn’t win, we hope the companies that did win them will live up to their commitment to serve our members with the same quality and service offered by Warren RECC and [Franklin EPB]."
Charter Spectrum managed to win $1.2 million in RDOF money in the county, though the Bowling Green Daily News reports that its “current service area is limited largely to the urbanized part of the county.”
A Strong Start
WRECC Senior Director of Communications and Public Relations Kim Phelps said that the partnership with Franklin EPB has seen a 50 percent take rate thus far, with strong, quick, and positive response from the areas where they are currently extending service (see map, right). It “occurs almost instantly as we make the service available to our members,” she said. “The take rate in areas where the service has been available continues to rise as members get out of contracts for DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or wireless services that do not provide adequate Internet speeds.”
Franklin EPB General Manager Bill Borders remarked that "having an Internet provider that is local, and offers the great customer service that both Franklin EPB and Warren RECC provide, will be a great asset to the development of Simpson County."
Warren RECC, which delivers electric service to roughly 68,000 members across 5,700 miles of line [pdf], has been pursuing other projects like this. At the end of 2019, construction began on a similar partnership with North Central Telephone Cooperative (NCTC) in Grayson County, with Warren RECC again leasing backbone fiber access for the telephone cooperative to finish drops and act as service provider to roughly 800 homes. The dual project likewise won RDOF funding to accelerate its construction in parts of Warren, Grayson, and Edmonson counties (see map, right).
It’s exciting to see projects between municipalities and cooperatives in the region expanding and succeeding with such strong and immediate take rates, and to see federal funding dollars go towards expanding fiber to homes to offer quality options to those both inside city boundaries and in rural areas.