Taylor Electric Cooperative, serving members in the Abilene, Texas region, is starting to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to members through its Access Fiber pilot project.
Four Phases Of The Pilot
Lance Maeda, Director of Information Technology at Taylor EC shared some details about the project that’s now serving a limited number of premises with plans to expand. The cooperative connected its first customer in early December 2017, about six months after the Board decided to pursue the project.
The cooperative is currently working on the first of four phases. This phase brings service to an apartment complex and two residential subdivisions, one of which is located adjacent to a Taylor EC satellite office where they will house electronics for the network. Engineers considered their plan a way to deploy this part of the network more cost effectively and more quickly. With this approach, they can concentrate on perfecting the service to members before moving on to the other phases.
They’ve recently finished the first subdivision where twelve members have signed up for FTTH services and are now focusing on the aerial connection to the apartment complex and the second neighborhood in the planned first phase. Homes in the second neighborhood are more sparsely located and, according to Maeda, Taylor EC will contend with a wide range of densities as they expand the project. Engineers have decided to house the fiber for the second half of the first phase in underground conduit where it will be protected from ice storms and tornados.
No Grants Or Loans
The cooperative received no grants or loans to fund the pilot, funding it entirely through operations; the cooperative is not ready to share the cost of the pilot project. At this point, the electric cooperative is not restricted to offering Internet access in specific areas, says Maeda, but telephone cooperatives that offer services in Texas can only offer Internet access in their own territories. Taylor EC is weighing the pros and cons of applying for FCC funds because accepting any funds might require also accepting limitations.
Customer Service, Natural Fit
Suddenlink offers services in Abilene, but the ISP has earned a poor customer service reputation. Taylor EC will concentrate on the same high customer service standards it offers members who receive electric service, which Maeda sees as an advantage over Suddenlink or other providers.
The co-op Board believes that the new venture will also help the organization grow based on their research of other electric cooperatives that now offer FTTH services. Like most other electric cooperatives that took a similar route, Taylor EC had existing fiber in place to connect substations. They also had personnel, trucks, and other resources to facilitate the project, including staff with experience in telecommunications.
Members have asked co-op leadership why Taylor EC wasn't yet offering Internet access, which has contributed to the decision to establish Access Fiber. As they move forward with future expansions, the co-op is using Crowd Fiber as a way to determine where to deploy. Members can express their interest on the Access Fiber website and areas with the most demand will be considered first for expansion. Even with a “low key” approach to spreading the word about the project, says Maeda, people are signing up faster than they predicted.
Access Fiber offers 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical service for $39.95 per month with no data caps and no installation fee. For now, they'll offer one tier but are considering other options for the future. They’ve decided that they will not offer video, like many other cooperatives, but they’re likely to provide voice services some time in the near future.
“Our position has always been, what can we do to enhance our member services? That’s the overarching strategy we have…It was a natural fit to go into that line of business.”
We first learned about the project from a cooperative member living in nearby Clyde, Texas. Thanks, David!