TAMPA, Fla.—There's a lot more than wiring involved in bringing broadband to your co-op. Which communities get it first and last? How do you brand it? What about tech support? And where will you put all of those new employees?

Those were some of the issues touched on during a May 3 CONNECT '17 session at the Tampa Marriott Waterside.

Unlike companies that cherry-pick where to build, members of Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) effectively have ownership in deciding who gets served in what order.

DMEA divided its service territory into 50 zones, each with a goal for people to sign up. A website allows people to track how many people have signed up—and how many more need to—before construction can begin.

"This validates when and where we build. The zones that sign up the fastest get fiber first," said Becky Mashburn, DMEA's marketing supervisor.

Branding was a paramount concern for the Montrose, Colorado-based co-op, which won the 2017 Edgar F. Chesnutt Award for its launch of Elevate Fiber.

"Don't ask Google, 'How can I brand my telecommunications company?'" counseled Mashburn. "Find the experts."

DMEA used a firm that took the time to learn about the co-op and its members. "They helped us package our lifestyle into a brand," said Mashburn, adding that Elevate Fiber is proud not to look like the competition.

"We don't want to," said Mashburn. "How many of you really, really love your internet and your cable company?"

A broadband operation takes a lot of room, as Midwest Energy Cooperative can attest.

"It's just unimaginable how much you're going to grow," said Candy Riem, vice president, marketing, member and information services. The Cassopolis, Michigan-based co-op has added more than a dozen employees, and expects to bring in two dozen more over the next five years.

"We're in the middle of building a new building because we're out of room," said Riem. An employee lounge and a workout room were repurposed to accommodate folks. And it's not just humans.

"You need room for equipment and inventory," said Riem. "We bought a new warehouse."

Tech support is often contracted out. Chris Martin, vice president, member and industry relations at NRTC, said to "teach them the co-op way as much as you can so they know that any time they call a customer or visit a home they're representing you."

And most important: "Make sure you have ironclad service agreements," said Martin.

"Tell them, 'This is what we deliver to our electric members, and we expect you to do that as well.'"

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