Co-ops Make Rural Broadband PossibleBy Michael W. Kahn | ECT Staff Writer Published: December 17th, 2012
AMES, Iowa—“The Internet is not going away,” Todd Pealock said in explaining why his electric cooperative is helping bring it closer to rural consumers.
Pealock is CEO of Habersham EMC and chairman of the board of North Georgia Network, which marked a huge milestone Nov. 30: It finished construction of a huge fiber optic system. The project features a 260-mile core ring and another 800 miles of middle and last-mile fiber construction.
Many rural Georgia residents are already receiving high-speed Internet and other benefits, with thousands more to come.
It’s the result of two years of construction on a project that Pealock said will help underserved communities.
“The area was experiencing a loss of industry and a lot of economic development complaints that we hear from other rural areas,” Pealock told the Dec. 12 Midwest Smart Grid Peer-to-Peer Workshop hosted by NRECA’s Cooperative Research Network and the Energy Department.
“We really had no cable providers in the region. The telephone provider offered DSL service, and it was very limited.”
Clarkesville-based Habersham EMC partnered with Young Harris-based Blue Ridge Mountain EMC to form the North Georgia Network and tackle the $42 million project. The bulk of the funding came from a federal stimulus grant.
“The electric co-ops represent possibly the greatest potential for expansion of really good infrastructure in rural America,” Pealock said, explaining how it’s a natural fit for co-ops to be infrastructure providers.
“It’s very synergistic for our linemen to hang cable, to lift the hardware up,” Pealock said. “The splicing is very natural for them.”
The network now includes “hundreds of businesses,” all of the more than 45 schools in the region, as well as a university, four colleges and five hospitals.
“It’s been a natural magnet of interest to the business community,” Pealock said. “I think they see this as tremendous infrastructure.”
Benefits for the co-ops include being able to install high-definition security video at substations, and improved communications for employees in the field.
And the membership? So far, some 2,000 homes are connected and “they really love the service,” Pealock said.
The network is open access, and third-party providers are being encouraged to offer voice, video and wireless services.
It’s such a success that Pealock said plans are underway to expand the network south.
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