By Mike Wilson, CCC, Vice President of Member and Community Relations, Ill.
Rural broadband. Like most other co-ops, for the last several years, our board
members have heard about bridging the connectivity divide at every NRECA event
two big things have kept us from seriously pursuing our own broadband solution
for our members. We’ve had previous opportunities with subsidiary companies
that didn’t end like we had hoped, but more importantly, our member density
makes providing broadband services a challenge. With only three members per
mile of line, our density is the lowest in Illinois and certainly among the
lowest in the country. No matter which way we looked at it, installing fiber
for all of our members simply didn’t make financial sense.
though, we were recently approached by a wireless internet company that had
been awarded some Connect America Fund II (CAF) dollars in east central
Illinois. Their plan is to provide speeds of up to 100 Mbps from a combination
fiber and wireless antenna solution. As they prepared for their rollout, they
quickly realized that the areas in which they were awarded CAF dollars were
very concentrated in our service territory. They wondered if we might be
willing to work with them.
still in the very early stages of figuring out the specifics of a possible
partnership, working with a company that MUST make a substantial capital
investment in our backyard is worth considering.
company is interested in working with us to leverage the relationship we have
with our members. They hope to do that in several ways:
- Our members trust us, so they would love our
endorsement of their offerings
- We have established communication channels that
target our members
- Our lineworkers might be able to quickly and
easily install poles to improve reliability for our members receiving their
co-op, there are many reasons to consider a broadband partnership:
- We won’t have any capital investments
- We will be able to take some credit for helping
provide much-needed broadband to our service area
- The internet provider will offer our members a
discount on their service, which we’ll funnel through the co-op Connections
- We won’t have to worry about the day-to-day management
of a new subsidiary
- We might receive some nominal revenue sharing
any partnership has potential issues. Will they treat our members as well as we
do? Will they be on schedule with their build outs? Is their business culture
one that we want to be associated with? How much – if any – of our member
information are we willing to share with them?
continue to perform our due diligence to see if a middle-ground approach makes
sense for our cooperative members.