Trailblazing with broadband to rural Florida’s Big Bend
Tri-County Electric Cooperative is the first electric co-op in Florida to bring a fiber-to-the-home network to its members
The rural north Florida region known as the “Big Bend” offers its residents natural beauty, coastal marsh, and something for every outdoorsman. But one big thing it lacks: Reliable, high-speed internet. The management and board of Tri-County Electric Cooperative (TCEC) saw a need with its members and knew the co-op was the right party to solve this problem.
“There’s a lack of good internet access in our area,” Julius Hackett, CEO of Tri-County Electric Cooperative said. “We hear it over and over again – the lack of broadband and how it’s holding back the vitality of our communities.”
The cooperative asked questions related to offering internet options on its surveys to members, and each time, the offices were bombarded with calls regarding internet. This further solidified the notion of TCEC heading down this path. Tri-County Electric saw the overwhelming response and began both discussions with its board and building community awareness. The board then ordered feasibility studies to better understand the financial impact broadband would have on the cooperative. But sealing the decision were conversations with other co-ops bringing fiber to their members.
“The impetus to moving the project down an accelerated path came from spending time with sister co-ops in Georgia,” Hackett said. “Once we were able to see their projects up close and engage in discussions with senior staff and fellow board members, that helped connect the missing link. Coupled with the education and input they were receiving; our board members were moved by what they had seen and were ready to make a decision.”
The co-op, and Hackett specifically, had been watching fiber projects and the evolution of fiber technology over the past few decades. “We knew that if we were going to walk down this path, we wanted to make an investment in a technology that would withstand the test of time and also be part of a robust infrastructure network that allows us to implement smart grid technologies and bridge the digital divide with our members at the same time.”
Tri-County Electric knew when starting this project, it would need a strong partner to help with the ISP responsibilities. “When we learned about Conexon Connect, where we could have a support team to help with providing internet, the call center and marketing, we knew this was what we were looking for. Being able to leave those things to the experts was a great fit for us,” Hackett said. “Conexon has great methods being employed that are highly productive. The technology, the network design, the marketing, it’s just very structured and organized. But the part that impressed me the most was the way it was member-focused, just like co-ops are member-focused.”
Tri-County Electric’s fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project will be the first fiber broadband network delivered by an electric co-op in the state of Florida.
“We’re so excited to get started and we can’t wait for our members to experience some of the same benefits that their urban and city counterparts experience, but still pair it with living in the rural settings and getting to enjoy the natural beauty that our counties offer,” said Hackett. “I think it’s going to be one of the key pieces to attract additional residents to our communities and allow our existing residents to thrive. Everyone will have access to this network-- we’re not leaving anyone behind.”
The co-op hopes to have its first customer connected by February 2023, less than a year after announcing its project build.
“We’re so excited to get started and we can’t wait for our members to experience some of the same benefits that their urban and city counterparts experience, but still pair it with living in the rural settings and getting to enjoy the natural beauty that our counties offer.”
Julius Hackett, CEO of Tri-County Electric Cooperative