In recent years, there has been a growing trend of electrical co-ops leveraging their existing infrastructure and expertise to provide broadband internet access to underserved areas.
Traditionally, electrical co-ops were formed to bring electricity to rural and remote communities that were overlooked by larger utility companies. These co-ops are typically owned and governed by the customers they serve, with a focus on providing reliable and affordable electricity.
With the increasing importance of internet connectivity in today’s digital age, many rural areas still lack access to high-speed internet services. Recognizing this need, some electrical co-ops have started exploring the possibility of expanding their services to include broadband internet.
By utilizing their existing infrastructure, such as power lines, utility poles, and substations, electrical co-ops can extend their reach to deliver internet services. This approach is often referred to as “fiber-to-the-home” (FTTH) or “fiber-to-the-premises” (FTTP), where fiber optic cables are installed to provide high-speed internet access directly to homes and businesses.
There are several advantages to electrical co-ops entering the internet service provider (ISP) market. Firstly, they already have a well-established customer base and a deep understanding of the communities they serve. This familiarity allows them to tailor their internet services to meet the specific needs of their customers.
Furthermore, electrical co-ops are often nonprofit entities, which means their primary goal is to serve their members and the community rather than maximizing profits. This can result in more affordable pricing, improved customer service, and a commitment to bridging the digital divide in underserved areas.
The process of converting an electrical co-op to deliver internet services can involve significant investment in infrastructure, such as laying fiber optic cables and upgrading network equipment. However, some co-ops have been able to secure funding through grants such as the BEAD program*, loans, or partnerships with other organizations to support these expansion efforts.
Additionally, the falling costs of technology in many networking products can make this option attractive. Software with white-box networking, often a fraction of the price of traditional networking solutions, can open up economic options and can help drive business choices to offer data services.
By adopting white box networking, co-ops can leverage the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of commodity hardware while retaining control and customization over their network infrastructure. With white box switches and routers, co-ops can tailor their network to meet specific requirements, optimize performance, and scale according to their needs. This level of customization enables co-ops to efficiently deliver data services to their members.
White box networking also offers programmability and automation capabilities, empowering co-ops to streamline network management, reduce operational costs, and rapidly deploy new services.
It’s important to note that the transition to becoming an internet service provider may vary for each electrical co-op. Some co-ops may choose to build and operate their own broadband networks, while others may partner with existing ISPs or utilize a combination of strategies to deliver internet services effectively.
“I believe Electric Co-Ops are ideally positioned to capitalize on this opportunity because they have experience in infrastructure, heavy construction, and the necessary components to become an ISP, as well as managing a utility-type infrastructure with customers and subscribers,” said Kevin Myers, Senior Network Architect with IP ArchiTechs.
Overall, the involvement of electrical co-ops in providing broadband internet services reflects their commitment to community development and addressing the digital divide in underserved areas. This trend demonstrates the potential for leveraging existing infrastructure and local expertise to bridge the gap in internet access and contribute to the overall economic and social well-being of rural communities.
Value-added Distributor EPS Global recently published an episode of their podcast, The Critical Lowdown, featuring Vinnie Maniola of IP Infusion and Kevin Myers of IP ArchiTechs. This episode was a great overview of this broadband trend with electrical co-ops, and includes some specific examples of how network disaggregation through software is helping some of these co-ops with the transition to data services.
*The BEAD Program
The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program (BEAD) is a comprehensive initiative aimed at addressing the digital divide and ensuring equitable access to high-speed broadband internet services for all individuals and communities. Recognizing the critical role of broadband connectivity in today’s digital age, BEAD focuses on bridging the gaps in broadband access, affordability, and adoption. The program aims to deploy broadband infrastructure in underserved areas, particularly rural and low-income communities, where internet connectivity is limited or non-existent.
The program provides $42.45 billion to expand high-speed Internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs in all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Contact IP Infusion today to learn more.
Kelly LeBlanc is the Chief Marketing and Product Officer for IP Infusion.
Ciara McCarthy is the Chief Marketing Officer for EPS Global.
Kevin Myers is the Senior Network Architect for IP ArchiTechs.