When Indiana’s Tipmont REMC asked members about broadband in 2017, more than half said that they couldn’t access fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The rural electric cooperative soon began establishing plans to develop a fiber broadband network. Now, in a move to bring high-quality connectivity to members sooner, Tipmont has acquired local ISP Wintek Corporation, and plans to serve all 23,000 members within the next eight years.
A Comfortable Relationship
Wintek, headquartered in Lafayette, began in 1973 and provides connectivity to Tipmont’s headquarters in Linden, Indiana. The ISP has used the electric co-op's poles for more than 10 years to mount sections of the Wintek fiber for residential and commercial connections. According to Tipmont’s announcement on the acquisition, Wintek has also served as a consultant for IT systems to the cooperative. Tipmont leaders have already established a level of trust with Wintek and vice versa.
According to Oliver Beers, co-owner and COO of Wintek, the acquisition will allow more Wintek customers to access fiber connectivity. “We’ve done as much as we can financially afford to do,” Beers told the Journal Review.
Began as A Solo Project
When the Tipmont board unanimously decided to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, they had not intended to work with another entity. They commenced construction this past summer in Montgomery and Tippecanoe Counties, where they’ve already deployed 30 miles of fiber. In November, they connected a dozen households in Linden as test customers to work with the system for two months.
“It’s really important when you have a service that people depend on, like electric service or broadband service, that we make very sure that what we’re providing is highly reliable given the gravity of what’s being provided,” says [Tipmont REMC President and CEO Ron] Holcomb. “So since we are new to the space, we decided to take a slower approach and make sure as we started to ramp up, the service would meet expectations or exceed expectations.”
While the co-op had no doubt that they could finish the task at hand — constructing a network and offering service to members — they soon realized that members from all over their eight county service area wanted high-quality Internet access as soon as possible. Tipmont REMC also knew that, in learning all they needed to know to offer this new service, they faced a time-intensive learning process. By acquiring Wintek, Tipmont REMC gains knowledge about network engineering, fiber deployment, Internet access delivery, and the regulations that they need to follow.
Wintek will be able to continue the expansion to bring broadband to the region:
“We’ve done a lot as a private company as best we can, which has been great throughout our entire history,” says Beers. “But in order to help tackle these larger problems on a much greater landscape, you need scale – which is something we’ve struggled with. But moving forward, having the combined venture, that’s going to be huge.”
Better Services in the Region
Within the eight rural counties that Tipmont serves, both residents and businesses complain that lack of high-quality connectivity is negatively impacting their ability to function. Susan Benedict owns a small business located only a fifth of a mile outside of the town of Lafayette. She’s a veteran of trying to operate a business without high-speed Internet access.
“Well you know, trying to run a business on phone lines that were put on in the '30s and '40s is kinda like driving a car to the airport with a flat,” says Benedict. “You might make the plane, but you’re probably going to be the last to board. And that is absolutely no way to run a business.”
Households will have the option to choose between three speeds for Internet access, all are symmetrical:
- 250 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $65 per month
- 500 Mbps for $85 per month
- 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $95 per month
The acquisition became official on January 1st; Wintek’s 22 employees joined Tipmont.