Some members of the Co-Mo Electric Cooperative service territory might soon be linked to the Internet at the fastest speeds ever seen in this part of Central Missouri.
The cooperative - through its wholly owned subsidiary, Co-Mo Comm - has launched a pilot project in two targeted areas to test whether building a fiber-to-the-home broadband network is financially feasible for all of it service territory.
The move comes in the wake of the cooperative's unsuccessful attempt to secure government funding to assist in building the network. After receiving that news in September, Co-Mo's board of directors authorized the staff to study whether building such a network without government assistance would make sense for the cooperative.
Led by Information Technology Manager Randy Klindt, the staff organized a pilot project that would build a fiber-to-the-home network along two feeders, one leading from the Tipton office and one from the Laurie office. About 1,150 of Co-Mo's 24,000 members will be eligible to receive the service in the pilot project.
"Those two areas were chosen because they are feeders that are reflective of the entire system," Klindt said. "In other words, we'll be able to accurately take the response and construction-cost data we get from members along those two feeders and project them across our entire system. That will help us determine if this project makes financial sense for the cooperative."
Co-Mo is taking most of the risk to all of its members out of the project by using a pre-sale business model. The project will move forward only if 35 percent or more of the members along the two targeted feeders agree to sign up for Co-Mo Comm's service, called Co-Mo Connect. Co-Mo is asking those members to put down $100 installation fee now, agree to pay an addition $150 at the time of construction and sign up for 24 months of monthly Internet service at 10 megabits per second for $49.95 a month. Unlimited local and long-distance telephone can be added for $25 more, and faster Internet speeds are available for an additional monthly cost.
"The whole premise of this project is that it has to support itself," said Co-Mo CEO/General Manager Ken Johnson. "The electric cooperative will not subsidize this project, and it will not affect electricity rates."
Members along the targeted feeders were on Thursday sent informational packets in the mail. The deadline to sign up for the initial offer is May 1. After that, installation fees will increase because Co-Mo Comm will have to send out a crew especially for each service. Co-Mo Comm would begin engineering and construction of the network as soon as the 35 percent threshold is passed.
Fiber-to-the-home offers the fastest Internet speeds currently available. As technology develops, the network will be capable of handling up to 100 megabits per second. This will enable not only fast Internet service, but on-demand and streaming movie services now widely available. In addition, fiber would lay the foundation for the cooperative to provide increased smart-grid technology to its members as applications develop. Those include communication with appliances that would assist members in lowering their electric bills.
"All of the media applications are amazing, and this will have a direct relationship to our core business of providing electricity. We've already taken several steps toward that with some of our usage monitoring services like Power by the Hour. This will allow us to do much more in the future," Johnson said.
Power by the Hour is a free member benefit available at co-mo.coop that allows users to customize the cooperative's homepage on their computer to reflect their electricity usage in the past 24 hours. This helps members make lifestyle changes that allow them to reduce their electric bill.
Co-Mo Comm has set up a website, Co-Mo.net, for members to get more information about the pilot project. It will also allow everyone to follow the progress toward the 35 percent threshold.
"We're hopeful there will be great demand for this," Johnson said. "We have data from two surveys that indicate there is. This pilot project will be the ultimate test of that demand, and if it's successful, we will be on the road to bringing broadband Internet to all of our members."