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