Co-Mo announces major expansion
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Broadband Internet is now planned for all of Co-Mo country.
On Wednesday, June 27, Ken Johnson, president of Co-Mo Comm, a subsidiary of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, announced a plan to bring Co-Mo Connect fiber-to-the-home Internet, telephone and video service to the entire cooperative service territory.
“This is a historic day for our portion of central Missouri,” Johnson said. “The lack of broadband Internet has been holding this area back in terms of economic development and has been a mark against us in terms of quality of life. That’s about to change.”
The four-phase construction plan could make the service available to every Co-Mo member, about 25,000 households and businesses, over the next four years. The Co-Mo Connect website, co-mo.net, has been updated with a feature so members can see which phase their home or business is in.
Each phase of the plan represents an anticipated one-year construction and installation cycle. The first phase is expected to start in the first quarter of 2013 and will cover about 50 percent of Co-Mo’s members.
Randy Klindt, the general manager of Co-Mo Comm and the cooperative’s information technology manager, said the phases were determined to help make the project financially successful.
“In each phase, construction will be going on in the northern and southern parts of our service territory,” Klindt said. “The phases proceed logically from what we currently have constructed and build outward. This will give us the best chance of being financially successful so the process can continue to every single Co-Mo member. That’s the whole point behind this plan — to bring Co-Mo Connect to our entire service territory.”
At the June meeting, the Co-Mo Electric Board of Directors approved the framework to construct the fiber network and provide Internet, telephone and television service through its subsidiary, Co-Mo Comm. The work would be done on a four-phase plan, and the board approved funding for the first phase. The board retains the right to alter the course of construction or halt it entirely if projections don’t hold true.
“We’ve said from the start that what we’re doing with Co-Mo Connect can’t negatively affect electricity rates,” Klindt said. “That remains as we move into these next phases. In fact, if our projections are accurate, the project could help contain rates in the future.”
The announcement comes after a year-long pilot-project phase in which Co-Mo Connect service was publicized, constructed and installed in two areas of the cooperative’s service territory. Those two areas, one just south of Syracuse and the other in the Laurie area, were selected because they reflect the average density across the cooperative’s service territory and were close to Co-Mo’s two offices.
Construction began in October 2011 after a three-month pre-sales period in which eligible subscribers were asked to sign up in sufficient numbers before Co-Mo Comm was financially able to build the network. The first subscribers’ services were turned on just before Christmas of that year. Since then, the feedback has been exclusively positive.
“The service is terrific,” said Jim Kelly, a subscriber in the south pilot project area. “I have no need to run into Laurie anymore to use someone’s free wi-fi service. The connection is very fast and beyond our expectations.”
Beyond the Internet, Co-Mo Connect offers unlimited local and long-distance telephone service for just $25 a month.
“The number of people who have signed up for phone service has surprised us,” Klindt said. “The demand far surpassed our projections.”
After examining the data from the pilot project and constructing a financial model to build the Co-Mo Connect network to the entire cooperative service territory, the Co-Mo Electric Board of Directors voted to proceed with the project.
“The demand is there,” said Board President Doug Strein. “The staff has done a fabulous job of doing the pilot project and gathering the information we needed to make this decision. It’s a great day to be a Co-Mo member.”
Co-Mo Connect operates using fiber-optic technology. Data is transformed into light and beamed at incredible speeds directly to subscribers’ homes and businesses.
“The technology is future-proof,” Klindt said.
The technology will also allow Co-Mo Comm to add television service to its initial offer of Internet and telephone.
“Television was something we just couldn’t cost-justify in the pilot project," Johnson said. "The equipment was too expensive to purchase for just the small amount of subscribers in the pilot project. But now that we know this service is going to go systemwide, we can spread that cost over a greater number of subscribers and offer some great television packages at really attractive prices.”
Details of those packages will be announced in the coming months and be posted on the Co-Mo Connect website and on the Co-Mo Connect Facebook page — facebook.com/comoconnect. The service will be offered first to subscribers in the pilot project area while the first phase of the expansion is being completed.
The Co-Mo Connect network is providing a great quality-of-life advancement for subscribers, Johnson said, but its primary purpose is to improve the electric cooperative’s service.
“That’s the great thing about this,” Johnson said. “Even if you don’t become a Co-Mo Connect subscriber, you’ll be benefiting from this network as a Co-Mo Electric member.”
The cooperative is already using the network to better communicate with “smart” equipment in the field. The Co-Mo Connect network will better allow the cooperative to predict and locate outages, as well as dispatch crews to restore them.
“The broadband network we’re able to offer our members is actually a spillover effect from its primary use,” Johnson said. “It’s your classic win-win situation.”
Potential subscribers in Phase 1 of construction will receive a marketing packet from Co-Mo Comm to allow them to sign up. A deposit of $100 will mark each member’s location on the construction map. Internet packages begin at $39.95 a month for 5 megabits per seconds of residential service and range up to $99.95 a month for 100 mbps. Business packages are also available.
The cooperative is formulating a triple-play package of Internet, phone and television version. Details will be announced in the marketing packet.
Klindt stressed the importance of subscribers signing up during the pre-sales period.
“We build our construction maps based on those who have signed up,” he said. “If there’s an entire area that hasn’t signed up, we won’t build fiber to that area, and then it can be much more costly if members decide later they want to join.”
Indeed, that has already occurred more than 60 times in the pilot project areas. Subscribers who have signed up after construction trucks passed their location have paid as much as $600 to have the fiber extended to their home or business.
“When the trucks are passing by building the network, that’s the cheapest it will ever be. If we have to bring crews back and have them go out after the fact, it’s much more expensive,” Klindt said.
Johnson said he’s confident the service will be a hit with Co-Mo members.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for this area,” Johnson said. “We’ve seen the demand and are able to provide the service. This is just like the late 1930s when the demand was there for electricity and no one else would provide it. We’re happy to see history repeating itself.”
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