For This Indiana Electric Cooperative, “Concern for Community” Means Building a High-speed Fiber Network

There may be one famous Orange County already — the one in California is home to Laguna Beach, Disneyland, and The Real Housewives — but Orange County, Indiana, will soon be making a name for itself with world-class connectivity thanks to the local electric cooperative.

After a few years of planning, Orange County REMC is moving ahead with the construction of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network that will bring premium Internet and telephone services to its members and other nearby residents. Construction on the main fiber ring begins this fall with services starting as early as next year.

The Seventh Cooperative Principle

In Orange County, the co-op’s main service territory, about half of the county’s 9,000 residents do not have access to 25 Megabit per second (Mbps) wired Internet access.

To address this, Orange County REMC began exploring ways to provide fast, reliable connectivity to its members in 2015. Two surveys and a feasibility study confirmed that a fiber project would be financially possible for the co-op and that it would garner sufficient interest from residents, while also improving management of the electric grid. “Based on the second survey, 85 percent of Orange County REMC members stated they would take our service if it were offered,” Matt Deaton, the co-op’s General Manager and CEO, told Hoosier Energy.

Because of the strong community support and the benefits for local businesses and residents, the Orange County REMC Board of Directors approved the FTTH project, Orange County Fiber, in May 2018.

In a recent edition of the Electric Consumer, published by Indiana electric co-ops, Deaton explained:

“All of these factors are found under the seventh cooperative principle ­— concern for community...This was a major decision to expand the services we provide to prepare us to meet the current and future needs of our members.”

Orange County Fiber

The finished fiber network will serve 14,000 people, primarily in Orange County, but also in parts of Crawford, Davies, Lawrence, and Washington Counties. Deaton estimates the cost of the entire network at more than $30 million. The co-op plans to finance this through private loans but is also applying for grants.

logo-orange-county-in-fiber.png Orange County REMC will start construction of the fiber backbone in September. After the main ring is completed, which could take up to a year, they will begin connecting households, prioritizing communities with the most enthusiasm for receiving high-quality Internet access. Co-op members can ensure their neighborhood receives service first by signing up online to show their interest and by registering as a “champion” to promote the network to their neighbors.

Orange County Fiber plans to offer subscribers the following monthly Internet plans:

  • 50 Mbps symmetrical - $54.95
  • 100 Mbps symmetrical - $69.99
  • 250 Mbps symmetrical - $99.95
  • 1 Gbps symmetrical - $149.95

Households will also have the option to subscribe to voice services for $34.95 per month, or $24.95 per month if it’s paired with Internet service.

Locals are looking forward to another option. On the Facebook page for Orange County Fiber, one co-op member commented, “We pay Frontier $50 for 3 [Mbps] . . . I can’t fathom 50 [Mbps] for the same price. I’m pumped!!!”

Perhaps a sign of their commitment to providing better connectivity to the region, Orange County REMC recently acquired the local companies NetSurfUSA, a wireless Internet service provider, and CallUSA, a telephone service provider. Both are part of local company Helix Technologies.

Joining a Statewide Trend

Orange County REMC is not the first Indiana electric co-op to branch out into broadband. Jackson County REMC and South Central Indiana REMC have also decided to build fiber networks to better serve their members.

At the announcement of South Central Indiana REMC’s network, Indiana Senator Eric Koch noted that state law has made it easier for cooperatives to invest in fiber networks. For example, in 2017 Senate Enrolled Act 478, Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act, made it possible for electric co-ops to use existing Right-of-Way easements for building out fiber infrastructure.

Learn more about the role that cooperatives play in bringing Internet access to rural communities; read our 2017 report Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For the Internet Era.

Image of the Orange County Courthouse in Paoli, Indiana, by Rdikeman at English Wikipedia. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.