co-mo cooperative

Rural Electrics Solve Rural Internet Access Problems - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 229

Rural electric co-ops have started delivering high quality Internet access to their member-owners and our guest this week on Community Broadband Bits episode 229 is dedicated to helping these co-ops to build fiber-optic networks throughout their territories. Jon Chambers is a partner at Conexon and was previously the head of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.

Jon is a strong proponent for ensuring rural residents and businesses have at least the same quality Internet access as urban areas. We talk about his experience and frustration at the FCC, which was content to shovel money at telcos for the most basic infrastructure rather than setting higher expectations to ensure everyone had decent Internet access. We talk about how Co-Mo rolled out fiber to its members without federal assistance, inspiring electric cooperatives around the nation to follow suit.

In our discussion, I reference Jon's blog post "FCC to Rural America: Drop Dead." In it, he cites some of the reactions in the FCC from his advocacy for real rural solutions rather than signing big checks to big telcos for delivering slow and unreliable Internet access. One of quotes from a Democrat: "Republicans like corporate welfare, so we’re going to give money to the telephone companies to keep the Republicans on the Hill happy."

Neither political party comes off looking very good when it comes to rural connectivity, which fits with our impression. But Jon confirms another of our experiences when he says that when he works with rural communities, politics doesn't come up. They just focus on solutions.

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 36 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

National Cooperative Month: Celebrate Gigabit Cooperatives

Time to celebrate the work of rural cooperatives that bring high-quality Internet access to residents and businesses forgotten by national corporate providers. October is National Cooperative Month! Let’s celebrate some of the accomplishments of those cooperatives providing next-generation connectivity. 

We pulled together a list of cooperatives who were actively advertising residential access to a Gigabit (1,000 Mbps) at the end of 2015. These cooperatives rang in 2016 with Gigabit speeds, inspiring others to improve rural connectivity throughout the U.S.

To assemble the list, we used Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Form 477 data from December 2015 to find all the providers advertising a residential Gigabit download speed. This generated a list of about 200 providers. Those providers were then manually sorted into “cooperative” or “not cooperative” based on publicly available information. If you would like to make a correction or suggestion concerning this list, please email htrostle@ilsr.org

2015’s Gigabit Cooperatives

  • Ace Telephone Association, also known as Ace Communications or AcenTek, in Minnesota
  • Adams Telephone Cooperative in Illinois
  • Albany Mutual Telephone Association in Minnesota
  • Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (ATMC) in North Carolina
  • Ben Lomand in Tennessee
  • Breda Telephone, also known as Western Iowa Networks, in Iowa
  • Canby Telephone Association in Oregon
  • Chequamegon Communications Cooperative, also known as Norvado, in Wisconsin
  • Clay County Rural Telephone Cooperative, also known as Endeavor, in Indiana
  • logo-co-mo-connect.jpg

  • Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Missouri
  • Cochrane Cooperative Telephone Company in Wisconsin
  • Danville Mutual Telephone Company in Iowa
  • Dickey Rural Telephone Cooperative in North Dakota
  • Eastern Oregon Telecom in Oregon
  • Emery Telcom in Utah
  • ENMR Telephone Cooperative, also known as Plateau, in New Mexico
  • Gervais Telephone Company, also known as DataVision Cooperative, in Oregon
  • Farmers Cooperative Telephone Company in Iowa
  • Farmers Mutual Telephone Company in Iowa
  • Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative in Alabama
  • Farmers Telephone Cooperative in South Carolina
  • Garden Valley Telephone in Minnesota
  • Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association in Minnesota
  • logo-gvt-coop.jpg

  • Guadalupe Valley Telephone Cooperative in Texas
  • Halstad Telephone Company in North Dakota
  • NineStar Connect in Indiana
  • Hill Country Telephone Cooperative in Texas
  • Kingdom Telephone Company in Missouri
  • LaValle Telephone Cooperative in Wisconsin
  • Lavaca Telephone Company, also known as Pinnacle, in Arkansas
  • Matanuska Telephone Association in Alaska
  • McDonough Telephone Cooperative in Illinois
  • Midwest Energy Cooperative, also known as Midwest Connections, in Michigan
  • Molalla Communications Company in Oregon
  • Nemont Telephone Cooperative in North Dakota
  • North Central Telephone Cooperative in Kentucky
  • North Dakota Telephone Company in North Dakota
  • North Georgia Network in Georgia
  • Northwest Communications Cooperative in North Dakota
  • Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Cooperative in Minnesota
  • Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative Corporation in Kentucky
  • Peoples Telecommunications in Kansas
  • Phillips County Telephone Company in Colorado
  • Pineland Telephone Cooperative in Georgia
  • Polar Communication Mutual Aid Corporation in North Dakota
  • Red River Rural Telephone Association in North Dakota
  • Reservation Telephone Cooperative in North Dakota
  • Richland-Grant Telephone Cooperative in Wisconsin
  • Roosevelt County Rural Telephone Cooperative, also known as Yucca Telecom, in New Mexico
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  • RS Fiber Cooperative in Minnesota
  • Rural Telephone Service, also known as Nex-Tech, in Kansas
  • Santel Communications Cooperative, also known as Mitchell Telecom, in South Dakota
  • Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative, also known as Sho-Me Technologies, in Missouri
  • Skyline Telephone Membership Corporation in North Carolina
  • South Central Rural Telephone Cooperative Corporation in Kentucky
  • South Central Utah Telephone Association in Utah
  • Springville Cooperative Telephone Association in Iowa
  • Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative Corporation in Tennessee
  • UBTA-UBET Communications, also known as Strata Networks, in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming
  • United Electric Cooperative, also known as United Services, in Missouri
  • UTMA, also known as United Communications and Turtle Mountain Communications, in North Dakota
  • Valley Telephone Cooperative in Texas
  • Venture Communications Cooperative in South Dakota
  • Western Telephone Company in South Dakota
  • West Carolina Rural Telephone Cooperative in South Carolina
  • West Central Telephone in Minnesota
  • West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative in Kentucky
  • West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative in Wisconsin
  • Wilkes Telecommunications in North Carolina

Smart Rural Communities

The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA -  the Rural Broadband Association) has also created the Smart Rural Communities Program to recognize the achievements of cooperatives taking on high-speed connectivity projects. The program includes a Gig-certification process. Even if a cooperative does not advertise a Gigabit (which means they won’t appear on our list), the cooperative still has the ability to provide Gigabit connectivity. Check out the NTCA map of those cooperatives at SmartRuralCommunity.com

logo-CTCcoop.jpg

2016’s Growing Gigabit Cooperatives

A number of other cooperatives have recently moved forward with Gigabit community projects. Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), the telephone cooperative out of Brainerd, Minnesota, launched its Gigabit speed tier this year. This summer, the Custer Telephone Cooperative in rural Idaho announced a new fiber project. The cooperative’s current goal is to offers speeds of 100 Mbps, and eventually a Gigabit Internet access speeds. Other cooperatives are in the early stages of their fiber projects, such as Duck River Electric in Tennessee. The number of cooperatives taking on these projects continues to grow.

An increasing number of cooperatives are recognizing that high-speed Internet access is necessary to keep the rural U.S. competitive. Cooperatives are a community-owned, local solution to connectivity problems. You can learn about how telephone and electric cooperatives are leading the charge to bring high-quality Internet access to rural regions in North Carolina in our most recent report. Download a copy of North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

To keep up to date with stories about community networks, subscribe to our newsletter and follow @MuniNetworks on Twitter.

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks, Creative Commons license

Broadband Communities Magazine Spotlights Study on Rural Electric Cooperatives

In the 1930s, rural communities joined together through electric cooperatives to bring electricity to their homes and businesses. Today, rural electric co-ops may have the power to bring Internet access to these same communities.

A recent Broadband Communities Magazine article highlights this potential for rural electric co-ops. In the article, Dr. Robert Yadon and D. Bracken Ross of the Digital Policy Institute at Ball State University explain the results of their recent study. 

Electric Co-Ops as Regional Networks

Yadon and Bracken looked into 30 private sector Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) providers in Indiana and 16 rural electric co-ops providing Internet service around the nation. After predicting engineering costs, the researchers highlighted a dozen Indiana rural electric co-ops that could serve as regional hubs of connectivity.

The researchers developed a specific process for rural electric co-ops interested in providing Internet access. In summary, they propose:

“For REMCs [Rural Electric Membership Cooperatives], the process begins with a commitment to a middle-mile, smart grid fiber deployment connecting their substations, followed by a phased-approach business model with strategic growth focusing on last-mile customer density. Exploring local business partnership underwriting opportunities, examining the use of an efficient regional network design and combining multiple federal funding programs are the keys to rural broadband deployment success down the road.”

We don’t necessarily agree with these proposals. Our Christopher Mitchell has written many times about how middle mile cannot solve the last mile problems. The incremental approach based on customer density can repeat some of the same problems we’ve seen with cable and telephone companies - skipping over the most rural and smallest localities. Relying on federal funds is not always necessary. In fact, the researchers point to the success of a co-op that continued on after being denied a federal grant.

Pioneering Electric Co-Ops are Models

Yadon and Bracken pointed to the incremental approach taken by several rural electric co-ops, particularly Co-Mo Electric. The researchers noted how Co-Mo Electric was able to build out the network overtime to the rest of their electric service area. 

Co-Mo Connect, part of Co-Mo Electric, provides some of the fastest Internet service in the nation to rural Missouri. On MuniNetworks.org, we've covered Co-Mo Connect’s journey to connectivity. After being denied a federal stimulus grant, in 2012 the co-op forged ahead and built a next-generation network. Chris spoke with the previous General Manager of Co-Mo Connect, Randy Klindt, in Community Broadband Bits Episode 140. Klindt now works for Ozarks Electric Cooperative as they deveop their own FTTH project. 

Local Entities With Vision

Although Yadon and Bracken’s recommendations are not quite spot on, one of their final statements is compelling:

“Only those local entities with a vision and a local, vested interest in providing a long-term solution for ubiquitous broadband service to rural areas will succeed.”

Rural electric cooperatives need to be focused on the future of the community. The recent ILSR report, “Re-Member-ing the Electric Cooperative,” from our co-workers in the Energy Democracy Initiative underscores how rural electric cooperatives have so much potential if they only engage and activate their memberships. Rural areas need to part of the new economies (from renewable energy to telecommuting), and rural electric cooperatives need to realize their potential.

Liberty and the Farm: Internet Access

This 4th of July weekend invites us to celebrate the accomplishments of our country. But, 23 million people in rural areas remain without high-speed Internet access.

Rural areas cannot stay unconnected. Agriculture has become a high-tech endeavor, and high-speed Internet access is necessary. Cooperatives, those democratic institutions formed by rural farmers years ago, are becoming an answer.

The Founding Fathers considered rural communities the life-blood of the country. In 1785, Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Jay, stated that:

“[C]ultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. they are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to it’s liberty & interests by the most lasting bands.”

High-Speed Internet Access Supports Agriculture

The Missouri Farmer Today recently wrote ofthe sorry state of rural Internet access for one family-owned business in Missouri, the Perry Agricultural Laboratory. They process soil samples and perform other agricultural testing for both local and international customers but the best connections available are via satellite. The lab constantly goes over its data cap and sometimes cannot send their reports to customers across the globe if the weather interferes with their signal. A high-speed cable runs along the edge of the property, but the company would have to pay $40,000 to connect to it.

The cost to build high-speed networks in rural areas is a familiar one. By banding together, members of cooperatives - whether electric, telephone, or Internet co-op - strengthen their position and gain the leverage to build networks that will ensure they aren't left behind. The Missouri Farmer Today also interviewed Jim Gann, the director of business development with the University of Missouri’s office of the Vice Provost for Economic Development. Gann spoke to the success of Co-Mo Electric’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project:

“We believe that in the economy of the future, where you are physically located is less of an issue than it’s ever been before.”

Co-Mo Electric Cooperative Brings FTTH to Rural Areas

At MuniNetworks, we have followed the story of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative since the beginning of their project in 2012. After being passed over for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding twice, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative decided that its members in the rural Ozarks of Missouri could no longer wait for high-speed Internet access. They began a FTTH project, Co-Mo Connect that is now nearing completion. The project will ensure that all the electric cooperative's members have high-speed Internet access. Co-Mo Connect is now on its 4th and final phase. You can listen to Christopher interview Randy Klindt from the co-op in episode #140 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Watch this video featured by the Co-Mo Electric Cooperative about the importance of electric cooperatives for rural communities and democracy. Electric cooperatives now have the potential to bring next-generation, future-proof infrastructure to rural communities across the U.S. 

 

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks, Creative Commons license

Ozarks Electric To Bring Gig to Arkansas and Oklahoma

Ozarks Electric Cooperative has a plan to bring fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma.

Fast, Affordable, Reliable Connectivity At Last

OzarksGo, a wholly owned subsidiary of the electric co-op, will provide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet service with symmetrical speeds of up to a Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second. The fiber network will cost $150 million to build over the next six years.

ArkansasOnline and local news station KSFM reported on the future network. The residential FTTH service will have no data caps and OzarksGo will offer additional services, such as telephone and video. At the end of the project, all co-op members will have access to the network's services.

According to the FCC 2016 Broadband report, 25 percent of all Arkansas residents don't have access to broadband (defined as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload). In Oklahoma, the FCC puts the numbers higher at 27 percent. Rural areas are even higher with 48 percent lacking in Arkansas and 66 percent missing out in Oklahoma. Considering the data collection process depends on self-reporting by ISPs, those numbers are considered low. The number of households that do not have access to federally defined broadband, especially in rural areas, is higher.

Soon though, these Arkansas and Oklahoma residents will have access to fast, affordable Internet access. General manager for OzarksGo Randy Klindt, who previously worked on Co-Mo Electric Cooperative's FTTH network, explained in the video below that the price for a Gigabit will be less than $100, which is an entirely opt-in service.

Ozarks Electric Cooperative serves about 71,000 customers, including businesses. Since the service area is so large, OzarksGo will build the network incrementally over the next six years. Each phase will cost between $25 and $35 million - for a total of around $150 million. This fall, they will begin construction on the first phase.

Fiber for the Electric Side

The network will also monitor the electric system by connecting substations and offices, improving efficiency. The co-op recently received approval for a rate-increase for rising costs in the electric system; the fiber network will help manage those electric costs.

Monitoring the electric system with a fiber network can shorten or eliminate outages, and this reduces electricity rates over time. For instance, the fiber network in Chattanooga, Tennessee, brought the city's electric rates 5 percent lower than they would have been without the fiber smart grid. Alyssa Roberts, a spokesperson for the co-op, told ArkansasOnline that the fiber system is expected to pay for itself through cost-savings on operations and maintenance.

Electric and Telephone Cooperatives Team Up

Rural electric cooperatives have decades of experience in providing essential services. Now several are looking to improve Internet access in unserved and underserved regions. In central Missouri, Barry Electric Cooperative and Co-Mo Cooperative have already started by providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet service. Another Missouri electric co-op, Callaway Electric Cooperative, is also getting into the business.

The co-op’s subsidiary, Callaway Electric Service, aims to offer FTTH in Callaway County and has teamed up with the local telephone co-op’s subsidiary, Kingdom Technology Solutions. Together, they will operate the partnership as Callabyte Technology.

Increasing Speeds and Access

Callabyte Technology will offer symmetrical Internet access speeds (i.e. the same upload and download speed). They will also offer telephone and video service as a triple-play package. Their “basic” speed is 100 Megabits per second (Mbps), four times faster than the FCC’s current download speed for the definition of broadband (25 Mbps download and 3 Mpbs upload). Prices are competitive:

  • $65 for 100 Mbps
  • $75 for 500 Mbps
  • $95 for a Gigabit (1000 Megabits) per second

In the fall of 2015, they began a pilot project in a small section of Callaway Electric Cooperative’s service area, which took place in the Stonehaven Subdivision near Fulton, Missouri. Telecompetitor reported that the project had a 50 percent take rate

Sharing Expertise and Profit

Each partner brings expertise in specific areas of the project. Callaway Electric Service is building the mainline infrastructure, while Kingdom Technology Solutions will manage customer connections, such as drops to the home and customer equipment.  Kingdom Telephone Company, their telephone co-op, has provided FTTH since late 2014 so they have plenty of experience with fiber.

The Kingdom Telephone Company began providing telephone service to Callaway and Montgomery Counties in 1954. Callaway Electric Cooperative began serving Callaway County in 1936 and now also serves portions of Montgomery County. The two have agreed to share any profit from Callabyte Technology based on each entity's investment in the venture. 

Collaboration between electric and telephone co-ops makes sense as a way to share expertise, resources, and risk. Rural co-ops do not have to enter into the Internet connectivity business alone as each typically has specialized knowledge, equipment, and additional assets. By joining forces each cooperative can expand Internet access to their members.

USDA Broadband Funding for Rural Projects; Coops On Top

This past July the USDA announced over $85 million in funding for rural broadband projects across seven states. The projects, many awarded to rural cooperatives, aim to bridge the digital divide and expand economic opportunities. For those interested in federal funding opportunities, NTIA has just released this guide [pdf].

Rural areas are often passed over by big telcos because they are considered less profitable. Farming, however, is a high-tech industry, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes that Internet access is as necessary as electricity in rural areas:

"Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America's future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago. ...  Improved connectivity means these communities can offer robust business services, expand access to health care and improve the quality of education in their schools, creating a sustainable and dynamic future those who live and work in rural America."

The USDA has awarded more than  $77 million in Community Connect Grants for rural broadband projects (since 2009). This July, the USDA loaned $74.8 million and awarded another $11 million in Community Connect Grants. Here is the current round-up of the USDA’s most recent loans and grants:

Alaska

Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative Inc. will connect Point Hope subscribers and prepare for an undersea fiber line with a $1.4 million grant.

Minnesota

Garden Valley Telephone, one of the largest coops in Minnesota, will continue to expand its FTTH service area with a $12.63 million loan. On average, the coop serves two households per square mile.

Consolidated Telephone, another coop, will perform upgrades and add a new fiber ring to allow for greater bandwidth with a $12.27 million loan.

Northeast Service Cooperative will receive two $3 million grants and, through a partnership with the Fond du Lac Band of Superior Chippewa, provide broadband service on the the Fond du Lac Reservation.

Montana

Triangle Telephone Cooperative Association will upgrade their system with fiber through a $29.95 million loan.

Oklahoma

@Link Services will receive $1.5 million in grants to provide broadband services in Seminole County.

South Carolina

FTC Communications will improves its wireless to 4G/LTE with a $12.38 million loan.

Virginia

Scott County Telephone Cooperative, with a $2.1 million grant, will provide one gigabit to 540 locations in Dickenson County to increase economic development.

Wisconsin

LaValle Telephone Cooperative will use a $7.61 million loan to deploy fiber.

It is no longer surprising to find faster, more affordable, more reliable Internet networks in rural areas served by coopertives. Minnesota's Farmers Mutual Telephone CooperativeCo-Mo Cooperative central Missouri, or Farmer's Telecommunications Cooperative in Alabama are only a few we have covered. As large corporate providers fail to provide modern services, rural cooperatives have stepped up to offer services to their members and improve economic development prospects in the communities they serve.

Co-Mo Cooperative Facing Off With Subsidized CenturyLink in Missouri

Parts of rural central Missouri have some of the fastest Internet service available thanks to fiber service from Co-Mo Electric Cooperative and United Electric Cooperative. The two have worked together to bring gigabit FTTH to cooperative members in central Missouri. Now that they have proven that people and businesses want high capacity connectivity, CenturyLink is about to enter the scene. The company plans to use millions of dollars in Connect America Funds (CAF) to build in areas already served by the cooperatives.

After years of planning and hard work, Co-Mo and United are not taking the threat lightly. They have filed challenges with the Wireline Competition Bureau but CenturyLink's Inside-the-Beltway power has thus far served them well. The Wireline Competition Bureau denied a challenge by Co-Mo and United but the decision appears to contradict established policy. Co-Mo and United recently appealed to the FCC asking them to review the Bureau's Order allowing CenturyLink to use over $10 million in CAF. [Read the Application for Review here.]

CenturyLink argues that Co-Mo and United are not providing voice services because they are working with a third party, Big River Telephone Company, to bring VoIP to members. If this were true, it could disqualify them as providers and lend credence to the argument that there are census blocks in the area that are not served. Because Co-Mo and United install, take phone orders for subscribers, and service phone switches, they should qualify as a provider of land line voice services. 

CenturyLink also asserted that census block information showed areas unserved even though those areas now have access to fiber connectivity from Co-Mo and United. General Manager of Co-Mo Connect Randy Klindt told us that the timing of their build prevented Co-Mo from providing an active customer in each block, but that service is available to people who live there. Even though it is not a requirement, Co-Mo and United now have detailed information that prove people in those census blocks can, and do, take FTTH service.

Co-Mo and United waged successful challenges for similar CAF awards to AT&T and Windstream. CenturyLink appears determined to use tax subsidies to build what will likely be only a fraction of the speed and reliability of Co-Mo or United Cooperative networks infrastructure. Unfortunately, CenturyLink's usual modus operandi - offering cheap intro rates to lure customers away from local providers like Co-Mo and United - could harm new investment in high speed networks.

Klindt also summed up the larger policy concern in an email:

The commission’s directive was to ensure that CAF support should not be used to build broadband in areas already served by an unsubsidized competitor...This money should be used in legitimate unserved areas, not areas with gigabit residential service available.

Learn more about Co-Mo Cooperative and their fiber network, Co-Mo Connect, in episode #140 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast where Chris interviewed Randy Klindt.

Co-Mo Cooperative: Bringing Some of the Fastest Speeds in the Nation to Rural Missouri

Co-Mo Cooperative and the Co-Mo Connect Board of Directors recently voted to proceed with the final phases of its gigabit FTTH project. The decision assures the plan to bring to triple-play to all Co-Mo members by the end of 2016.

We checked in on Co-Mo about a year ago, when the cooperative announced it would increase speeds without increasing prices for both residential and business members. Residential fiber Internet service ranges from $39.95 per month for 5 Mbps to $99.95 per month for gigabit service; all speeds are symmetrical.

Triple-play service extends beyond the electric service territory. During the first phase of the project, the city of California (pop. 4,200) opened up city poles for Co-Mo in space that was previously used by a cable company that no longer operated in the area. The project then expanded to Tipton (pop. 3,200) and Versailles (pop. 2,500). In a story on the expansion on the Co-Mo website, General Manager Randy Klindt said:

“We’re creating this wide swath of the most advanced communications network in the country right here in rural Missouri. Part of the cooperative’s mission statement is to improve our communities, and these city projects definitely qualify. It is important the everyone in our region has access to broadband because the economic health of our cooperative members and our local towns are intertwined.”  

...

“Despite what other telecommunication companies say, it’s not only doable, but it’s happened. The broadband speeds we deliver are 100 times what the FCC now determines to be broadband in rural areas,” Klindt said.

Ookla recognized Tipton as the community with the fastest Internet speeds in Missouri in 2014 with and average of 88.86 Mbps for those who ran speed tests on the network reported Lake Expo.com. Co-Mo Connect was also ranked 18th in the U.S. of fastest ISPs with at least 100 speed tests run from subscribers.

“Our little piece of rural America is 18th fastest in the entire nation,” said Randy Klindt, general manager for Co-Mo Connect. “Just stop and think about that for a second.”

This past December Co-Mo Connect enabled a Watch TV Everywhere feature, which allows member to use devices other than TV sets to watch programming. The cooperative does not charge for the feature, but warns subscribers to be mindful of cellphone carrier's data caps and roaming charges.

Co-Mo has also recently launched a new tool using the network to help members monitor and reduce their energy consumption. SmartHub was developed by Co-Mo's technology partner, the National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC). In addition to paying their bill, members can report outages and view a consumption history. The cooperative has posted a series of SmartHub instructional videos on YouTube.

The remaining phases of the project will allow Co-Mo Cooperative to bring better connectivity to a greater number of households and businesses in central Missouri. The plan will also ensure the financial success of the investment. From the Lake Expo.com article:

“What we’re trying to prevent from happening is the reverse of what happened when investor-owned electricity providers came through in the early 1900s and cherry-picked the profitable cities and left the rural areas without electricity,” said Ken Johnson, Co-Mo Connect’s president the CEO/general of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative. “We didn’t want to see all the outlying areas with this amazing communications network but have holes in the middle with the cities that got left behind.”

The city projects also are providing an additional revenue stream that wasn’t expected when the business plan was developed. That revenue comes with comparably less expense because of the larger number of potential subscribers per mile of fiber.

“That revenue is going to make the entire project more likely to succeed, all the way to the very end of Co-Mo Electric’s lines where there are very few potential subscribers per mile,” Klindt said.

So far, customers have had nothing but rave reviews:

“I love that I am saving money, first of all, and then really loving that we don't lose our signal, whether it be the TV or the Internet, when it rains,” said subscriber Diana Davis.

Added Peggy Liebi: “I love it. I’ve never had HD or a DVR before. I didn't lose signal during the really bad storms, not even once.”

We interviewed Klindt for the Community Broadband Bits podcast. At the time, he estimated members were saving over $1.5 million per year; he has since revisited the calculations and discovered members are saving even more. With 16,000 subscribers saving approximately $20 per month, members are saving around $4 million annually. The service has proved so popular, other cooperatives have approached Co-Mo for information on their decision to invest in the fiber network.

Co-Mo Cooperative has produced a number of creative videos and posted them on their YouTube channel. Below is their video, the Road to Rural Broadband:

Rural Electric Co-Mo Coop Goes Gig - Community Broadband Bits Episode 140

As high quality Internet has become more essential for business and quality of life, those who realized that the existing telecom providers had no intention to invest in better connections in their rural Missouri communities began to ask their electric cooperative - Co-Mo - to step up and do it.

This week, we talk with Randy Klindt, General Manager of Co-Mo Connect, which is building a gigabit fiber network out to its members despite having not been chosen to receive any stimulus funds.

We discuss how they have structured the network, why they felt compelled to get into the business, and some of the results from their approach.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

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Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

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