April 2020 | Mary Logan Wolf | Oklahoma Living Magazine
How does a small town celebrate the liberation from decades of doddering internet service to its rebirth as a modern gig city with connectivity speeds matching that of San Francisco, Austin, and Kansas City? With a ribbon-cutting photo op, a humble plaque presentation, congratulatory speeches from visiting dignitaries, and a tray full of cookies with sprinkles.
It happened in Noble on February 20, when the town’s new telecommunications provider, OEC Fiber, declared the community an official OEC Fiber Gig City. The distinction means residents here will soon enjoy their daily technology diet enriched by beneficial fiber—as in fiber optic broadband with upload speeds of 1 gigabyte.
That’s fast enough to download a two-hour HD movie in 40 seconds, enjoy video streaming and conferencing with no lags, produce data-rich 3-D graphics, access cloud-based services, utilize telemedicine, and game like fiends.
Considered the most advanced delivery mechanism for today and tomorrow’s technology, fiber optic broadband could be a game-changer for the central Oklahoma community. Despite its proximity to the collegiate hub of Norman, Noble suffered from the same telecommunications deficit that plagues millions of rural Americans. Noble City Manager Bob Wade said they waited 20 years for AT&T and Cox to upgrade service to the community, “but they promised and never delivered.” When DSL lines slowed to the point that city hall and local emergency responses suffered the effects, city leaders turned to their neighboring electric cooperative for help.
Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC) created OEC Fiber in 2017 to meet the need for modern telecommunication service throughout their seven-county service territory. The co-op began construction in 2018. Today, they are one of 150 electric cooperatives in the nation delivering blazing-fast broadband via fiber optic cable strung between power lines.
“We felt it was necessary to provide this service in our area, and not just to our members,” Patrick Grace, CEO of OEC, told attendees. “There’s such a strong need for broadband connectivity throughout rural America, and there’s not a lot of options out there.”
Today, more than 7,500 OEC members enjoy the high speed and reliability of OEC Fiber’s internet, telephone, and television services. Once their fiber buildout is complete, OEC’s 43,300-member system will include more than 5,600 miles of fiber optic cable. Grace says Noble is OEC’s first fiber-connected community, but they hope to serve more towns as the buildout continues.
“Rural areas need broadband if they are to offer telemedicine services and other services. Right now, parents have to take their kids to McDonald’s so they can log on and do their homework. I hate to say this service changes lives, but we hear the stories,” he added.
Several elected officials attended the reception, including U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, state Sen. Mary Boren, and state Rep. Jacob Rosencrants. Cole, whose congressional district includes Noble, said the need for high-speed telecommunications in rural areas is an issue that unites Republicans and Democrats. He expects the U.S. House of Representatives to include rural broadband access in an infrastructure bill this year.
“You have to have this capability if you’re going to educate kids; if you’re going to be able to conduct commerce, and if you’re going to provide opportunities to sell and buy products,” Cole said. “If they don’t have internet, it will cripple these communities. Those without will be left behind.”