A growing number of families and businesses across East Texas have access to fast and reliable broadband service thanks to the partnerships between Peoples Telephone Cooperative, Wood County Electric Cooperative and Farmers Electric Cooperative. Teaming up where their service footprints overlap, Peoples Telephone and the electric cooperatives collaborate to get broadband access into the community quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively. “Every day, we work in conjunction with our electric cooperative partners to help fulfill our mission to deliver high-speed broadband to our mutual customers and members,” says Peoples General Manager Steven Steele. “It is always gratifying to work side by side with companies that have the same drive for customer service and dedication to enhance the lives of their customers as we do.”

STRONGER TOGETHER

In areas where the terrain makes it difficult to run fiber optic cables underground or where the number of potential customers is too low to justify the expense of installing fiber, Peoples uses a variety of wireless technologies to bridge the gap between where the fiber ends and where the customers are. This fixed wireless network is possible because of agreements between Peoples and the electric cooperatives, which own the utility poles that hold the equipment. In exchange for renting space on the poles, Peoples expands its broadband delivery capability. “The best connection, if you can get it, is fiber, but the wireless is a very good alternative,” says Keith Kindle, Peoples’ director of wireless operations. “It’s cost effective. We can do it in areas we couldn’t even think of covering from a fiber standpoint. It allows us to reach a lot more customers.”

Peoples and the electric cooperatives also save time, money and effort by working together on buried infrastructure. They coordinate underground installation projects, which allows them to limit disruption to the area by running electrical service lines and fiber simultaneously. Joint trench agreements allow the sharing of space underground and reduce costs, since the cooperatives split the expense of a single project rather than going it alone. “Bearing the brunt of expansion costs on our own wouldn’t be possible,” says Dave Parks, Peoples’ director of engineering. “Some people may not have broadband if we didn’t team up with the power companies to find the most cost-effective means to get these products out to the rural areas. They might do without, or have satellite or a less effective product. We’ve got the good fortune of having a good relationship with two of the largest electric co-ops in our common footprint.”

SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY

In addition to helping both Peoples and the electric cooperatives sign on new members, the relationships bolster the affected communities. As broadband transitions from a luxury to a necessity, it’s moving up on the list of must-haves for homebuyers and businesses alike. “If you’ve got people willing to relocate out here and they’ve got access to highspeed internet, it just becomes a more attractive option,” says Wood County Electric CEO Trey Teaff. “You’ve got quality-of-life issues that go along with that. You don’t have the hustle and bustle. If you can get near the internet speed you can get in the Dallas area, then why not move out here and enjoy a little bit slower pace of life?” Developers are also embracing the benefits of broadband and are incorporating it into their projects, starting at the design phase. “It was not so many years ago, developers building subdivisions couldn’t have cared less about joint trenching, and now they almost won’t build one unless they can do that,” says Mark Stubbs, CEO of Farmers Electric. “It’s amazing how much that’s changed. Now, almost everyone sees the value in it. “The economic prosperity of the region is now dependent on broadband,” Stubbs adds. “Broadband is not just about TV and telephone anymore. It’s about quality of life, it’s about health care, it’s about jobs. I’m glad to hear our partnership is making it possible for Peoples to provide broadband to areas it couldn’t reach on its own.”

PRODUCTIVE PARTNERSHIPS

Extensive coordination between Peoples and its partners begins long before any lines go in or bucket truck crews arrive to install wireless equipment. The process usually starts when a developer brings plans to an electric cooperative. “What we try to do, when we hear those things and we know it’s in Peoples’ service area, is say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this development coming in where they’re wanting to go underground. Would you be willing to go in with us and throw in fiber?’” Teaff says. “We’re willing and open to work with them to extend their service into our area. It does nothing but help the quality of life of our members that we serve.” Because Peoples, Wood County Electric and Farmers Electric are all rural cooperatives, they share a common understanding of how small towns work and what people living, working and raising families in those communities want and need. “That’s the advantage of a small-town co-op,” Parks says. “We really care about the product we deliver and the cost to the customer and on and on. We’re likeminded in that respect. These are the same folks that we’re going to meet in the grocery store and go to church with and everything else, too. They’re in our community, and we have a vested interest in being the best for our customers.”