Electric cooperatives are increasingly creating local solutions to rural connectivity woes. Many have built networks that rival those in the best connected cities in the U.S. Rather than waiting for disinterested national providers, cooperatives and their members have found workable solutions.
In south-central Missouri, the Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative is once again exercising the power of community network projects. The Houston Herald reports that Sho-Me Technologies, the communications subsidiary of the co-op, is deploying a fiber-backed, fixed wireless project to connect businesses in Houston, Missouri.
Houston, We’ve Got A Problem
Houston (population: 2,000) is the capital of Texas County, Missouri -- yes, Missouri. Home to about 25,000 people, the rural county has poor connectivity; about 90 percent of the county’s population doesn't have access to high-speed Internet service of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The Houston Herald reports that speeds of up to 10 Mbps download are the norm in Texas County. Upload speeds are even slower.
The situation has been rough for small businesses in Houston, where they could not perform routine updates without impeding service. For instance, the local dentist office, Family Dentistry, could not accept Microsoft updates for its network without disrupting daily operations at the practice.
Downtown Houston Finds The Local Co-op Solution
The community group, Downtown Houston Inc, was on the look-out for a solution to this problem. Sho-Me Power already had fiber connecting the County Administrative Center from a previous project in the town and all small businesses needed was a way to tap into that community resource. Downtown Houston Inc began talks with Sho-Me Power's subsidiary Sho-Me Technologies in September 2016.
Paramount was finding a quick and reliable solution; for this situation, fixed wireless appeared to be the best option. In mid-December, cooperative technicians began installing the wireless receivers on the businesses’ buildings. Ten businesses chose to take part and report download speeds up to 100 Mbps on the new network. Sho-Me Technologies guarantees each business at least 30 Mbps.
Family Dentistry has shifted to an entirely paperless system.
Sho-Me Power has long been a pioneer, showing how electric cooperatives can improve Internet access. Several years ago, Sho-Me Power built a middle mile network and connected community anchor institutions such as schools, libraries, and government facilities throughout south-central Missouri. Sho-Me Power is a collaboration among nine rural electric cooperatives, and several are excited about the results in Houston.
Representatives of several of these member electric cooperatives visited Houston to learn more about fixed wireless solution. Intercounty Electric Cooperative, the electric provider for Texas County and a member of Sho-Me Power, is especially interested. Intercounty CEO Aaron Bradshaw told the Houston Herald that they are considering similar fixed wireless solutions to reach homes of co-op members.