When Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) in southeastern Virginia embarked on its journey to close the digital divide with broadband for members in 2018,
co-op leaders knew there were challenges to successfully launching a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network. In the service territory’s extremely rural communities, there is a decided lack of member education and brand awareness for fiber broadband.
But Casey Logan, PGEC President and CEO, and his team moved forward, creating fiber subsidiary RURALBAND and beginning network construction. “Just like in 1938, we took the same approach – there was a need in the community and we stepped up to meet it,” he said.
As RURALBAND began to deploy its network, though, the challenges became more apparent: Take rates were as low as 10 percent in some areas and below 30 percent in the majority of RURALBAND’s open zones.
Logan knew the small co-op needed help. Lacking the annual budget to hire a team of in-house marketing professionals, he began to explore Conexon’s turnkey marketing services.
“We just couldn’t figure out the way to communicate to our members and communities to help them understand the value of the project and what we could do for them,” Logan said. “It spurred me reaching out to Conexon to see what resources were available.”
The Conexon team discussed the co-op’s goals to increase the take rate and subscribers, as well as to improve brand recognition in the community. A partnership was born, and a comprehensive marketing strategy for RURALBAND was launched.
Today, as a result of the marketing collaboration with Conexon, RURALBAND’s take rate is over 40 percent and crews connect an average of 50 to 60 subscribers per week.
“We just couldn’t figure out the way to communicate to our members and communities to help them understand the value of the project and what we could do for them. It spurred me reaching out to Conexon to see what resources were available.”
Serving some areas where over 20 percent of the population is at or below the poverty line, the co-op knew the importance of connecting its members. “Conexon stepped in to help us with print media, social media, community engagement plans, all of it,” Logan said. Brand awareness within the community started to increase.
One of Conexon’s first tasks was to improve member education in Surry County, demonstrating the opportunities FTTH brings to households and communities as well as reinforcing the affordability of RURALBAND services.
“When we get to a community that has never had internet before, we have to educate members first, and it has to be a face-to-face conversation,” Logan said. “They have to be able to put their hands on it.”
With this insight, the ‘broadband living room’ was born. Similar to the ‘cooperative kitchen’ models in the 1950s, the broadband living room was a hands-on educational experience that showed the community the real-world applications and power of fiber internet. RURALBAND’s setup included smart TVs, tablets and gaming systems for members to test the speed and reliability of its services.
In the broadband living room, the RURALBAND team could “sit down with members and show them what fiber could do, how to use the service and how much they could save,” Logan explained. “Our members still relate internet to cell phone usage and data caps, and we knew we needed to educate them on the new world fiber could bring.”
With education and brand recognition efforts underway, Conexon’s marketing team turned to the task of construction scheduling and what Logan referred to as “the Slinkie effect” of registering new members.