Zero to 40,000: Arkansas Co-op Hits Broadband Milestone   

OzarksGo fetes customer No. 40,000 with free Apple AirPods and an iPad in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The broadband arm of Ozarks Electric Cooperative recently upgraded its system to XGS-PON technology that can deliver up to10-gigabit symmetrical service. (Photo By: OzarksGo)

An Arkansas co-op broadband provider has gone from zero to 40,000 broadband subscribers in seven years and is still looking ahead to deliver the fastest speed anywhere. 

OzarksGo, the telecommunications subsidiary of Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Ozarks Electric Cooperative, celebrated this milestone by giving free Apple AirPods and an iPad to the lucky family in a new suburb the co-op readied with fiber during its construction.    

“The kids were thrilled with their new devices,” said Steve Bandy, general manager of OzarksGo. “You can see that this service is going to be successfully used.” 

The broadband entity achieved this connection after recently completing a 14-month upgrade of its fiber network to XGS-PON technology, or 10-Gigabit Symmetrical Passive Optical Networks, the fastest residential internet speed in the industry today.  

OzarksGo entered the gigabit realm in 2016 with GPON (Gigabyte Passive Optical Network) but within six years decided to invest in the next level for greater efficiency and bandwidth to meet members’ increasing needs.  

“We’re doing the things that we need to do to keep our membership and customers happy,” he said. “So, when the future asks for it, we’re ready.” 

OzarksGo offers multiple internet speeds from 100 to 2,500 megabits per second with TV and phone. Bandy anticipates rolling out 5 Gbps later this year.  

“We have the ability to go up to 10 gig in a home,” he said, noting that a lot of devices are not up to that speed. “It’s probably a little early to be able to have that multi-gig capability, but we’re prepared for it because we can already see it’s coming.” 

OzarksGo is fully deployed to serve all members of the cooperative, which serves nearly 90,000 members in five counties in Northwest Arkansas and four counties in Northeast Oklahoma. It expects almost 60,000 broadband subscribers within five years.  

“We’re in an area that has no downturn,” Bandy said. “We’re seeing about a 3% meter growth on our cooperative side. As we build out these new subdivisions with the electric, fiber is going in with it.” 

The co-op has hired additional customer service and technical representatives to support the growth, he said. The biggest challenge is converting customers from a competing internet provider that advertises gigabit service.  

“That’s where digital learning comes into play: Their gig is not like our gig,” said Bandy. “We are 100% fiber all the way from your living room to our data center. We have symmetrical service and more reliability. XGS has more resiliency. It helps us be able to grow and provide a better service.”   

At times, the upgrade took the system down in the predawn hours, spurring calls from some subscribers who rely on OzarksGo to teach classes overseas and run other businesses from their homes.  

“It really opened our eyes to what the benefits we have been able to provide to our community,” Bandy said.  

Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.