In 2017, Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative (AVECC) was experiencing what many rural communities around the country fear– residents leaving rural areas due to lack of high-speed internet. Working from home, students doing homework online, and access to telehealth require reliable internet access, and AVECC knew it could bring this to its members. After a phone call with Conexon founding partner, Randy Klindt, and a feasibility study proving the viability of broadband, the co-op formed a close partnership with Conexon to bring fiber broadband to its members.
The co-op started its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project and formed subsidiary, Wave Rural Connect, at the end of 2018 and hit the ground running to connect its first customer in June of 2019. By the end of 2019, 550 members were connected and 650 miles of fiber were built. Today, Wave has over 14,000 members connected.
"Marketing was the biggest learning curve. I think the thing that’s put us over the top is the addition of a marketing strategy. We’ve put some people in place in-house and started working with Conexon, and that’s when we really saw the project take off.”
“COVID really has accelerated that need for expansion and efficiencies to get that fiber to the home as quickly as possible,” Barret Ewing, AVECC Director of Engineering and Operations, said. “When we first started, it felt like it would take a long time to get to 10,000, but now it feels like a train that's moving that we can't really stop, which is exciting. We’re at the place where we can get it to users as quickly as possible.”
The partnership with AVECC and Conexon allowed the FTTH project to accelerate and grow as Conexon assisted AVECC and Wave Rule Connect with network design, operational support, and engineering. “The fiber design from Conexon is critical,” Ewing said. “We don’t have the personnel in place to go through and design fiber. So we’ve always relied on Conexon for the fiber design. The automated design system can design a whole substation quickly and we can get that into the hands of project managers that need to drive the system out. I don’t see how it would be possible to design a system quicker than we are.”
As Wave quickly figured out, getting the word out to communities that the high-speed internet service was available was key to getting members connected.
“Marketing was the biggest learning curve,” Brandon Fisher, AVECC Director of Technology and Communications, said. Conexon was able to be of service to Wave when it came to marketing its new fiber to members. “I think the thing that’s put us over the top is the addition of a marketing strategy. We’ve put some people in place in-house and started working with Conexon, and that’s when we really saw the project take off.”
Wave is seeing the impact it is having on AVECC members by bringing fiber to the homes of the families it serves. Fisher says he has several stories that have stuck with him from members getting access to the connection they need, but one in particular sticks out.
“I think one of the stories that has stuck with me was when we were doing our youth tour program where we send a high school senior to Washington, D.C. for a week where they learn about government and co-ops. There was a girl from one of our areas, Mulberry, who was interviewing for the program and asked us if Wave was coming to her area,” said Fisher. “When we told her yes, she explained how happy this made her because her parents weren’t able to go to college when they were young due to starting a family early, but with fast broadband, they would finally be able to further their education online. Seeing a technology that we could bring to her family that made her so happy. That was the first time that it hit home that we are truly impacting lives.”
AVECC is still making ‘waves’ as it continues building its infrastructure and bringing much needed high-speed internet to those who need it most.
“When we started, roughly 80% of our members were underserved,” Ewing said. “We’ve made a huge impact in that, we’ve now passed over 30,000 meters.”
The success of AVECC and Wave with its fiber broadband project has even taken both companies outside of the initial service area to bring fiber to communities that were extremely underserved. Wave is preparing to offer service in the city of Charleston, where it will provide fiber internet access to over 1,000 residents.
“With the power of broadband, we’re able to do something we haven’t been able to do with electric,” Fisher said. “We can go outside of our fence, there are no barriers, and we can take this product to a community that’s off of our grid but is in dire need of broadband as well.”