Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Electric Co-op Today, the predecessor to Electric.coop, on July 14, 2016.
Internet service at the highest speed available will zoom through rural Colorado this winter as the latest fiber broadband company set up by an electric cooperative gets members connected.
Elevate Fiber, a new division of Delta-Montrose Electric Association, is on track to provide 1 gigabit of broadband to homes starting in late November or December.
Co-op members are ready to embrace the new technology. Within four days of DMEA unveiling Elevate Fiber at its annual meeting in June, enough members in one area signed up to achieve 25 percent of the co-op’s goal for construction to begin in that zone. It will be a multi-phase, multi-zone project that is expected to be completed in five years.
“We plan to serve all our members in Delta and Montrose counties, overlaying 4,000 miles of distribution line with fiber to the home,” said Jasen Bronec, CEO of DMEA, which has 33,500 meters. “We have really underserved areas.”
The Montrose, Colo., co-op broached fiber to modernize its electricity operations and meet members’ growing desire to save energy through load control, rooftop solar, time-of-use and other demand response functions that require smart infrastructure.
“We need fiber to substations, but we also need to extend fiber communications down to meter level,” Bronec said. “By owning distribution lines, we already have access to a lot of locations and members we serve.”
That same fiber will provide fast, reliable internet service, reduce costs for members and eventually provide jobs for the area, he noted.
Yet entering the broadband business has pitted DMEA against competitors to serve its members for the first time.
“It’s a new experience to be competing in our own territory for business,” said Bronec, adding that resources must also go toward marketing, sales and communications for its wholly-owned subsidiary. Over time, “all members will benefit with quality internet service and defrayed cost of electric service.”
Co-op members, to that end, are taking the lead to get fellow members to sign up, akin to the first $5 fee for electricity decades ago.
“I image it was like when electricity first came: Those who wanted it saw the future and had to convince their neighbors,” he said.
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.