Tiny Town to Join Gigabit Cities with Co-op Help

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Electric Co-op Today, the predecessor to Electric.coop, on July 4, 2016..

An Arkansas hamlet that housed World War II ammunition personnel soon will join an elite list of U.S. locales with the highest internet speed available, thanks in large part to their electric cooperative.

By September, East Camden, population just under 900, “will join the few that are ‘gigabit cities,’ ” said Mark Cayce, general manager of Ouachita Electric Cooperative, whose Camden headquarters are about 10 minutes away.

“For East Camden to have same type service as Chattanooga, Tenn., or Austin, Texas, is a big leap forward,” said Cayce. “It will make it better for businesses and for everybody who lives here.”

OECC on June 16 teamed with South Arkansas Telephone Co. to create Arkansas Rural Internet Service that will build the 1,800-mile fiber network to deliver 1 gigabit to all 9,500 co-op meters over the next few years. In addition to high-speed internet, ARIS will offer TV and telephone services.

Both OECC and the SATCO have experience in providing internet connections. But by joining forces to offer gigabit service through fiber, they expect to save their customers money and get it built much faster.

“They have technical expertise and back office skills we didn’t have,” said Cayce. “We have access to our members and we built a long-standing reputation of a company that provides really good service.”

The co-op is a borrower from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation and plans to use its existing resources in this endeavor, but may apply for federal monies available to serving rural areas with broadband, he said.

For now, the excitement about the 1 gigabit service remains palpable.

“Within minutes after posting on our website that we were doing this, our phone started ringing,” said Cayce. “In the first week, we had over 400 members sign up for the service.”

OECC recognizes that high-speed internet is a “requirement” for the current generation and is hopeful that by providing a service available only in select parts of the country, young people will stay or relocate to southern Arkansas.

“We want to make our area more attractive for people to move to. One of the best ways is to bring things here that are not available anywhere else,” Cayce said. “They can come here and get gigabit speed.”

Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.