Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Electric Co-op Today, the predecessor to Electric.coop, on July 15, 2016.
Close to 90 percent of Mayes County, Okla., residents are without access to high-speed internet. In neighboring Delaware County, 75 percent lack broadband service.
Their electric cooperative is about to take them from zero to speeds of up to 1 gigabit—the highest available to homes, businesses, colleges and hospitals—with nearly $4 million from the Federal Communications Commission.
BOLT Fiber Optic Services in June landed the winning bid for $3.4 million in FCC’s Rural Broadband Experiments program to build out to Craig and Ottawa counties. It is on the verge of approval for $834,704 to provide broadband to Mayes and Delaware counties.
“We hold an annual meeting like every co-op and the No. 1 request is if we can bring reliable broadband to our homes. It is a big deal for our community,” said Shelia Allgood, head of the division of Northeast Rural Services in Vinita, Okla., that provides broadband. “We are very thankful for the money and support.”
In total, the NRS subsidiary will expand broadband service to 3,169 rural homes and businesses in the four northeastern Oklahoma counties.
“We bid pretty low and we were going to build it out anyway to these really underserved areas,” said Allgood. “That should show the FCC that rural areas are wanting broadband and that electric co-ops are stepping up to plate just as we did 75 years ago when big utilities wouldn’t come in to serve us with electricity.”
Within five years BOLT Fiber will provide 1 gigabit service to 693 homes and businesses in Mayes County; 361 homes and businesses in Delaware County; 325 in Craig County and 1,790 in Ottawa County.
BOLT has already built 1,500 miles of a 3,200-mile fiber network with $89 million from the Rural Utilities Service Electric Loan Program received last year. About 3,000 of its nearly 6,000 subscribers have been connected. That project will be completed in 2017.
Members have relayed praise of the service, especially when a tornado came through the co-op’s territory.
“Members were still able to watch the storm updates down in their storm shelters,” said Allgood. “They were very excited that they never lost the signal and they felt safe being able to watch what was going on around them.”
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.