Some of you may recall the day your home or farm received electricity for the very first time. Others no doubt have heard stories about how work was done before the lights came on. How life-changing that moment must have been: to finally experience a world previously accessible only to “city folk.” Only accessible to those who could bring profits to investor-owned utilities. Entire rural communities were forgotten and overlooked until a handful of farmers in 1937 said otherwise.
Would you believe it if I told you this exact scenario exists today? Here, in 2018, thousands of rural residents don’t have access to internet service in OEC’s service area. President Obama dubbed broadband “the electricity of the 21st century,” and we believe it is time everyone has reliable access to it.
REPEATING HISTORY WITH A TWIST
“I can’t fathom what it was like living before electricity,” said CEO Patrick Grace. “The reality is our members are living without reliable internet service. We can’t expect to do business, teach our kids or lead communities in today’s world without access to internet.”
Rural internet customers are currently expected to pay exorbitant fees for subpar service. They deal with data caps, unreliable service and speeds too low for something as simple as loading an image, much less streaming video. Some don’t have internet access at all.
Eerily similar to those 1937 farmers being ignored by investor-owned utilities, today’s rural residents are being overlooked by investor-owned telecommunications companies, despite the fact that federal grants are offered to meet the needs of those rural communities. This reason alone explains OEC’s endeavor to ensure all members have access to reliable, affordable internet service.
“Offering this service is a natural extension of our mission to improve our members’ quality of life,” said Grace.
BROADBAND & CO-OPS: A GROWING TREND
Electric co-ops across the nation have begun rising to the challenge of connecting their typically rural memberships. Here in Oklahoma, three other co-ops have broadband subsidiaries up and running. We thought our membership — more urban than typical co-ops — wasn’t experiencing such issues, until an early 2017 survey showed otherwise.
“The board and I were very surprised to see the lack of internet service being offered to our members who choose to live in rural areas,” said Grace. “We proceeded to consult with experts in the broadband field and conducted feasibility studies to determine if it would be something worth pursuing.”
Fast forward to April 2018, and crews are attaching fiber wire to our existing infrastructure with the goal of connecting all of our substations. This communication means increased reliability for current and future OEC members and the possibility of providing a service to those who never thought they would see it.
“Members can expect to have the same, high quality experience with their fiber service as they do their electric service,” said Grace. “Our standards are high across the board and we will serve our members to the best of our abilities in every way we can.”
Stay up-to-date by visiting www.OECFiber.com(link is external).