Client Success

From Dream to Delivery, Sac Osage Electric Cooperative Builds Fiber-to-the-Home Network the Cooperative Way

Partnership with Conexon Connect Streamlines Processes, Eases Funding Woes to Make Project a Reality in Rural Missouri.

Subscribers

4,000

Total Miles of Fiber

2,300

Network Investment

$52million

Sac Osage Electric Cooperative, named for the Sac and Osage Rivers that meander through its territory in western Missouri, proudly serves nine counties nestled between the scenic shores of Stockton and Truman Lakes. The co-op’s 9,000 rural consumers span demographics and industries, united until recently by one recurrent common denominator: the need for reliable high-speed internet to bring new opportunities to their residential communities.

Aaron Ash, General Manager at Sac Osage Electric, recalled the initial idea of bringing internet to its members was raised as far back as 2005. Early on, the co-op considered options including BPL (broadband over the power line) and fixed wireless, but none seemed to be the right fit: The Sac Osage team had its mind set on service that could reach 100 percent of their members.

In more recent years, the need for broadband grew and the co-op heard from its members more frequently. Some had to take their kids to the McDonald’s parking lot for Wi-Fi to do homework; others complained of the miles-long commute to doctors’ offices for minor illnesses. Ash remembered one story in particular that struck a chord with him. 

“There was a gentleman who moved to our community and worked remotely,” Ash said. “He drove three-quarters of a mile to the nearest church for hotspot service just so he could download files and join calls for work. Now with fiber, he can work from home with a strong symmetrical connection and stay in our community. It’s stories like that, where people can do things now that they weren’t able to do before, that really make a difference.”

From dream to delivery— Sac Osage Electric began its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) journey with Conexon Connect in 2021 and started offering residents life-changing Connect, powered by Sac Osage Electric, broadband service in April 2022. Ash credits the success of the Sac Osage Electric and Conexon Connect partnership to their shared commitment to following the cooperative approach.

“We felt from the beginning that Conexon would handle things the way cooperatives would and that made all the difference. The team was committed to serving the entire co-op membership and they saw the service the same way as we do electricity—providing the most reliable service at the lowest possible cost.”

Aaron Ash General Manager, Sac Osage Electric Cooperative

The estimated $52 million network will be complete by summer 2024, reaching approximately 9,000 homes and businesses across Cedar, St. Clair, Benton, Barton, Dade, Polk, Hickory, Henry, and Vernon counties. The 2,300-mile Connect, powered by Sac Osage Electric, network is being built and deployed in fewer than three years.

When exploring business models, Sac Osage Electric opted for Connect’s shared-revenue proposal instead of establishing the co-op itself as the ISP. The co-op’s board hesitated to commit to operating a business with both limited knowledge and funding. (The co-op had not fared well in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund [RDOF] auction.) But when the team learned the Connect model could ensure the project's funding while seamlessly integrating fiber into the co-op’s infrastructure, it was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

With help from Conexon Connect, Sac Osage Electric’s project secured $700,000 in funding from St. Clair County, $100,000 from Cedar County, and $3 million in state American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars.

From the beginning, Sac Osage Electric has collaborated with neighboring cooperative Osage Valley Electric Cooperative on the broadband process. The two co-ops announced their FTTH projects with Conexon Connect simultaneously and have been able to lean on each other along the way. From navigating challenges like laying lines across railroads to sharing resources and insights, Ash said having a local contact has been advantageous for everybody involved.

Having Conexon’s industry expertise to coordinate construction and manage network operations also seemed like a no-brainer for the Sac Osage team, Ash added.

“We believe in Conexon’s expertise and values,” he said. “When our members have problems with service, Conexon Connect approaches it in the same way we do as a cooperative, and they try to make it right for every member.”

With an impressive 40 percent take rate and 4,000 subscribers to date, Sac Osage has exceeded expectations by consistently being ahead of schedule and earning overwhelming community support. The co-op anticipates 5,000 to 6,000 connected subscribers by summer 2024. 

The value fiber broadband adds is evident throughout Sac Osage Electric’s rural communities already. “With fiber to the home and its symmetrical speeds, you don’t have to be a passive viewer of what’s going on in our world,” Ash said. “You can participate in careers, your healthcare, and the culture at large to make a difference in ways that just weren’t possible before. Connect, powered by Sac Osage Electric Cooperative, service is the best you can get for something that’s part of all of our daily lives.”