Back in 2019, we hired a consultant to conduct a feasibility study for broadband in our service territory. That study provided strong evidence that entering the broadband business would almost certainly put ECE’s financial position and electric assets at risk because of the large amount of debt required to make the investment in fiber and other equipment. Based on that study, our board made the decision to forgo investment in broadband at that time.
Since then, circumstances have changed. The pandemic has intensified the need for high-speed internet in our rural areas. State and federal governments are taking notice and funding opportunities are becoming increasingly available. As a result, ECE has made the decision to take another look at a regional solution to broadband.
On November 19, 2021, the ECE Board of Directors voted to move forward with developing a plan for a full fiber to the home project. Our newest feasibility study has indicated that with the appropriate funding from grants and other sources, it is reasonable for ECE to provide fiber throughout our service territory. ECE will be spending the next few months putting together a comprehensive plan for the businesses and residents in our 14-county service territory. Upon completion, our board will make a final determination on the overall project. The plan will be designed based on fiber only and will lay out a phased approach for a project that could cost as much as $300M.
As many of you know, electric cooperatives have helped solve the broadband problem across the nation and have been successful in large-scale deployments. Maintaining ECE’s financial solvency is non-negotiable, and we will move forward with this project only if that is protected by appropriate funding. Therefore, we will be working to develop relationships and communicate with the communities we serve.
Owning and operating a fiber network would give ECE and its members the value of smart grid technologies and would increase the efficiency and performance of our electric distribution grid. Beyond retail broadband, ECE would position itself as an electric co-op providing safe, reliable electricity, while moving forward with smart grid initiatives and implementing technologically relevant solutions to industry trends. This solution would provide many layers of value to taxpayers, and we are hopeful that it will receive support from policy leaders and funding decision makers.
As the plan comes together, we will be sharing more information, and we will be reaching out to many of the local entities we serve to see how we can collaborate on this significant regional project.