Ozarks Electric Cooperative Provides a New Vital Service to its Community
Ozarks Electric Cooperative was founded in 1938 to deliver electricity to rural counties in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Eight decades later, the co-op is striving to provide another vital service to its community: broadband internet.
“Everyone knows there’s a flight from rural areas to urban areas, and one of the reasons is because of broadband access,” says Ozarks President and CEO Mitchell Johnson. “With what we’re doing, our children and grandchildren will be able to live where they choose and have the same amenities that urban areas have. This will have a positive impact on the sustainability of the cooperative and the communities that we serve.”
It’s a growing trend for rural electric cooperatives (RECs) to expand into broadband services. RECs have many of the ingredients in place to add the service, including right-of-way and strong, trusted relationships with subscribers in their communities. Nonetheless, it’s always an ambitious undertaking, requiring significant capital investment and the addition of new systems and capabilities.
With what we’re doing, our children and grandchildren will be able to live where they choose and have the same amenities that urban areas have.
Under the guidance of Johnson and his board of directors, Ozarks began deploying fiber-optic connections to homes and businesses in its service territory in 2016. Ultimately, the six-phase project will deliver high-speed broadband to all of its approximately 77,000 members. CoBank has provided term loan facilities to finance construction for the first three phases of this project.
Randy Klindt, general manager of OzarksGo, the fiber subsidiary of Ozarks Electric, says he regularly hears from members who are receiving broadband. “Once you connect a member who doesn’t have service, and then experience the appreciation you get from them, you feel like you’re really doing something good for the community,” Klindt says. “So many people are either praising our service or can’t wait to get connected.”
Klindt says Ozarks “could not do these types of capital-intensive investments without a strong partner like CoBank. They’ve been with us from day one and it’s enabled us to make critical improvements to the co-op and for the communities and members we serve.”
William LaDuca, senior vice president of electric distribution banking for CoBank, says it’s been a very successful partnership. “Broadband is crucial to the success of rural economic development and has the capability to help rural communities across America thrive and grow.”