Charting a New Broadband Course - America's Electric Cooperatives
With a major obstacle lifted by state lawmakers and backed by the unanimous support of its board, an Indiana electric cooperative is building a fiber network to deliver broadband to every member.

While a few electric cooperatives have managed to provide internet service in Indiana, Jackson County REMC is the first to undertake a broadband build-out under a new law that eliminates the need to adjust private electric easements with existing above-ground infrastructure, which co-op officials called a key obstacle.

“Having to renegotiate the easements and the cost associated with that would be a major setback for the project,” said Mark McKinney, general manager of the Brownstown-based co-op.

Scott Bowers, vice president of government relations at Indiana Electric Cooperatives, said with the new law in place, a number of Indiana co-ops are taking a close look at broadband deployment.

“Several cooperatives are assessing the feasibility and discussing how they might be able to fill the gap for their members,” he said.

After doing due diligence over 18 months, Jackson County REMC in November sent crews to prep for building the initial 340 miles of what will be a more-than-2,000-mile fiber network. It will include 220 miles of fiber between all 20 substations within the co-op’s service territory and 120 miles of distribution fiber to the home.

Completion of the $62 million network is expected to take four to five years. Beta tests to work out the bugs will take place early next year, and member rollout will begin in spring 2018.