Freedom FIBER, Tombigbee Electric Cooperative in Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama, already has high-speed Internet service through Google Fiber, but the surrounding rural areas must look to their local cooperative for better connectivity. Tombigbee Electric Cooperative has started an ambitious Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project to eventually cover its entire service area over four counties in northwestern Alabama.

In a press release, Tombigbee Electric announced that their Freedom FIBER network will start providing Internet service in the towns of Hamilton and Winfield in September 2017. It’ll take about a year to get the new network to everyone in the designated build out area.

Much Needed Connectivity

Hamilton is the seat of Marion county with about 7,000 residents; 20 miles to the south, Winfield has a population of 5,000. As of June 2016, about 75 percent of the population in Marion County does not currently have access to FCC-defined 25 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) download speeds.

With Freedom FIBER, residents will have a choice between two tiers of Internet service: 100 Mbps for $49.95 per month or 1 gigabit (1,000 Mbps) for $79.95 per month. The co-op will also offer phone service for an additional $29.95 each month. The fiber network will be much more reliable than CenturyLink’s DSL network, which is currently the only choice in the towns.

An Incremental Plan

Tombigbee Electric’s plan will eventually cover much of Marion, Fayette, Lamar, and Winston counties. That’s about 1,600 miles across northwest Alabama, and the co-op has set a goal of covering this area in only 5 years. The expected cost is $38 million in total. The project will also include a smart grid for better management of the electric system, saving time and money.

The electric co-op’s General Manager Steve Foshee is looking beyond the numbers. In another press release, Foshee explained how this project is about more than access to Netflix:  

“This is not just about Internet. This is going to transform education, our medical community, the lives of our young people, and so much more.”

Cooperatives Provide Rural Connectivity

This project is part of a growing movement of electric and telephone cooperatives building next-generation networks for Internet service. Large corporations, such as CenturyLink and AT&T, have focused on building networks in urban areas, leaving the rural communities behind.

About 50 electric cooperatives have fiber projects to improve connectivity in their communities. Even more telephone cooperatives have built FTTH networks, and many offer gigabit service. Several communities in Minnesota even created the first Internet cooperative, RS Fiber. For many rural communities, cooperatives are the way to a more connected future.