How has your co-op navigated supply chain disruptions in its broadband rollout?

Answer: At Arrowhead Cooperative/Arrowhead Broadband, supply chain challenges are something I feel we have done a great job of managing. When I say we, all the credit really goes to the staff and their ability to get us through these difficult times. We noticed early on that lead times were growing, material prices were skyrocketing, and vendor supplies were not being replenished as quickly as pre-COVID-19. Usually, being as small as we are—about 850 miles of fiber and adding another 105 miles over the next few years—you would think we would be hit even harder. I guess one of the blessings of living in northern Minnesota is the short construction season. It gives us a long procurement period. We have multiple winter months to order materials, schedule deliveries and then move snow out of an area to store it. When spring arrives, all we need to do is “get it in the ground” before the next winter blows in. Was it luck, I think not. The dedication of our staff, superb vendors and some great insight into what was happening has kept us in a good position for the next couple of years. But stay tuned, this ain’t over yet!

Answer: The most important factor in managing supply is our team. We have exceptional people who are focused on providing excellent service and who are continually looking for ways to improve. No matter the source of a disruption, our team is adaptable, responsive and professional. When the supply chain started to become less dependable, we began forecasting at least one year in advance to get materials on order. Our team reviewed stock levels and forecasts every few months to make sure we were operating ahead of the need. We have also worked to create long-standing, strong relationships with our vendors, and these relationships have paid off during this challenging time. They maintain consistent, open communication about lead times, which helps us remain in front of the situation and plan effectively. When fruitful, we leverage our contractors’ relationships with vendors. Though we normally avoid a cost markup by supplying material ourselves, they often purchase higher quantities than we do, especially when it comes to telecom materials. I credit our entire team for successfully navigating these supply chain disruptions. They work together and pull from their different strengths to keep an eye on material and ensure that we have what we need when we need it.

Answer: Our co-op has navigated supply chain disruptions in our broadband rollout through a variety of innovative and strategic measures. Foremost, we’ve established strong relationships with multiple suppliers, ensuring that we have backup options and are not solely reliant on a single provider. This diversification mitigates risk and allows for more flexibility when disruptions occur. Recognizing the importance of planning, we’ve also implemented robust forecasting systems. Using historical data and predictive analysis, we’ve been able to anticipate demand and adjust our procurement schedules accordingly. This has allowed us to place orders well in advance, avoiding a last-minute rush and potential delays. Additionally, we’ve adopted a proactive approach to communication, both with our suppliers and customers. We maintain a transparent dialogue with our supply partners about potential disruptions and their impact, which helps us prepare contingency plans in advance. Similarly, we communicate openly with our customers about possible service delays and work hard to manage their expectations realistically. Lastly, we’ve focused on building internal capabilities, including inventory management and logistics handling. By improving our in-house competencies, we’ve been able to respond to disruptions more swiftly and effectively. This includes maintaining a reasonable level of buffer stock to cushion sudden supply shocks. Overall, our co-op’s approach to managing supply chain disruptions is multifaceted, combining strategic relationships, advanced planning, transparent communication and enhanced internal capabilities. This integrated approach has helped us ensure a smooth broadband rollout despite the challenges. 

Answer: Tombigbee Fiber initiated construction immediately before COVID-19, with no anticipation of its impact, based upon a need and a hope for success with a staged rollout. Materials were prevalent and reasonably priced. Initial progression faltered, only reaching 100 customers by late 2020. With supply limitations on the horizon, it became apparent that a phased build would fail. As a result, our board agreed to trust our team, approving the entire $100,000,000 project, changing direction. We utilized our system designer’s purchasing group and had to be creative to supplement it. With financing from CoBank, we resorted to business school theory going to suppliers and scheduling massive orders for the entire project. This allowed us two advantages: 1) firm pricing and 2) firm delivery dates, assuring our place in line. We had high volumes and paid quickly to our supplier’s delight. We stayed in constant contact. We loaned our supplies to our sister co-ops in times of need. Likewise, we borrowed on occasion. We utilized new suppliers for anything running short. We established a warehousing arrangement to manage our installations, allowing better inventory control. We changed our pace to weekly install 300 customers while constructing 35 to 50 miles. We relied upon aggressive optimism and a belief in our team, finishing 3,500 miles and 55,000 passings two years early. We built enough fiber to reach Hawaii from Tupelo; Elvis would be proud.