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Power Companies Promise Gigabit Broadband

Mari Silbey

Two cooperative power companies, Co-Mo Comm and Habersham EMC, are the latest US electric utilities to announce plans to launch gigabit broadband service.

Co-Mo Comm in Missouri missed its original target of last fall to debut gigabit service, but a representative at an FCC event last week said the company now plans to introduce a gigabit broadband tier in August of this year.

Habersham EMS, meanwhile, is soliciting pre-orders from the communities it serves as a way to determine where to offer gigabit service first. So far, one out of 18 regional zones has met the pre-order goal for deployment, but the campaign is ongoing through the end of 2015. Habersham's approach is similar to the Fiberhood model Google Fiber Inc. initiated in Kansas City. (See Gigabit This, Google Fiber!)

EPB in Chattanooga, Tenn., is probably the most famous and successful case of a utility company entering the high-speed Internet business. The community-owned organization offers a 1Gbit/s service to more than 150,000 homes and businesses, and even powers its own smart grid with the same high-speed fiber network. (See Chattanooga Rocks 1-Gig FTTH Service.)

While it's not overly common for power companies to take on the role of Internet service provider, the concept of community groups building out their own telecommunications lines has precedent going back to the early 1900s. When telephone access first spread, local farmers and businesses would build their own lines connecting out to the local telephone exchange in town.

Meanwhile, recent activity from Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) suggests the link between electricity and Internet service could flow in the opposite direction as well. Comcast confirmed in January that it is conducting a retail energy trial in Pennsylvania with NRG Energy. In that effort, Comcast customers are given special energy plan considerations, and power service from NRG is bundled with an Energy Rewards Benefits Program administered by Comcast. Rewards include offers such as three free months of HBO or Showtime access and prepaid gift cards. (See Comcast Eyes Electrical Surge.)

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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User Rank: Lightning
3/26/2014 | 10:45:53 AM
Re: Quite widespread in some European countries
They're not uncommon in the US and have been deployed [or in the process] since the 2001-2002.   While it seems like a slam dunk app especially for those areas that weren't served well by the incumbant broadband providers there are so many hoops to jump through at the local and state level [or being banned outright like in NC] that it turns into a long slog.   I was personally connected to UTOPIA in the SLC area for a while but we talked to a lot of other munis and power companies back in the day.  
User Rank: Light Beer
3/26/2014 | 7:56:24 AM
A couple of comments from Co-Mo: I stated gigabit will be available in April. We have been doing FTTH for 2 years now. This is a speed increase for us. Not just a press release! Our 100mbps customers will be upgraded automatically to a gig in just a few days. Randy, GM, Co-Mo Comm
User Rank: Light Beer
3/26/2014 | 3:25:35 AM
Re: lots of muni. networks
Hi Kbode, 

You seem to have a firm grasp on the challenges facing rural broadband/locally controlled networks. 

In our case, we are very fortunate to already have 1,800 residential customers on our network as well as several hundred businesses and schools. We have the ability to upgrade any one of them that asks to gigabit service the same day.  We have already added several new gig-to-the-home subscribers this very week, some of which were upgrades and some were brand new fiber customers.  

For those not in serviceable areas yet, we are building to demand in a "fiberhood" model using the CrowdFiber.com tool so that our neighborhoods know exactly how many homes are needed in order for last mile build to be scheduled, while having access to a transparent place to check on progress. 

A press release can't replace the nuts and bolts and hands on work of building a subscriber base locally, but it does help us to share what's possible for companies like ours to accomplish. 

If you have any other thoughts or questions, we welcome them!


User Rank: Light Beer
3/25/2014 | 6:26:15 PM
A matter of time ...
Power Companies have a ton of cash, strong cash flow and "last mile" access to 100% of the homes they pass. It has only been a matter of time before they consider how to extend their product offering to include broadband.

Next step for them, "franchise" the Google fiber Win-Win for them.



Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/25/2014 | 5:38:29 PM
More competition
Great to see more competition in the Internet service provider market, where customers have often had too little choice.
sam masud
sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/25/2014 | 3:28:56 PM
Re: lots of muni. networks
I'm wondering if the fact that they are coops, and not just a power company, makes sense in offering gigabit service because they'd be offering it to those who, in effect, are their owners.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/25/2014 | 2:16:07 PM
Re: lots of muni. networks
Good points. Promises aren't always so set in stone and whether the promised gigabit rolls out as planned let alone as scheduled remains to be seen. There's still lots of hoops to go through not the least is community franchise agreements that pretty much lock out competitors.
User Rank: Light Beer
3/25/2014 | 1:24:03 PM
Re: lots of muni. networks
No arguement on that.  I spent about 6 years doing policy work in that arena, and consulting to various municipalities and municipal electrics.  It's been a slow slog.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/25/2014 | 1:02:51 PM
Re: lots of muni. networks
It's not THAT uncommon, but it has been an uphill climb for many of them. That's in no small part thanks to being sued to oblivion by incumbent broadband providers, or having to navigate protectionist state-level regulations literally written by the local broadband duopoly. 

These two launches look interesting, but I'm wonder how much "fiber to the press release" (for show) they are. Most companies now are crowing about offering 1 Gbps, even if at the end of the day just a few small handfull of high-end developments are the only ones that get to see it -- in 2017.
User Rank: Light Beer
3/25/2014 | 11:36:00 AM
lots of muni. networks
"While it's not overly common for power companies to take on the role of Internet service provider" is not really that accurate.  Just off the top of my head - Glasgow KY, Braintree MA, UTOPIA (Salt Lake City Area), there are a whole bunch in the Pacific Northwest.

There's a nice map of munciipal network projects at


Most are done by municipal power utilities - which makes great sense, they have poles, people to climb them (who are certified to work near electric wires), have their own operational needs for networking, and already have everybody in town as customers.

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