Understanding the Sprout 2022 expansion plan
Growing our internet service requires a strategic approach
The good news is Sprout Fiber Internet is growing. Cullman Electric Cooperative has announced more than 9,000 co-op members will be eligible to receive Sprout as part of its 2022 expansion plan.
The bad news is reaching our ultimate goal of making Sprout available to every Cullman EC member won’t happen over the next 12 months. Building a fiber network that can provide true high-speed broadband internet service to every home and business Cullman Electric Cooperative serves is a massive project. It will take time, money, people and materials. But most important, it will take smart planning and strategic decision-making.
More than a year ago, Cullman Electric Cooperative saw that members in its service area did not have access to the quality of internet they needed, and as an electric provider, the co-op was in a position to do something about this major problem.
Sprout Fiber Internet was created to help Cullman Electric better serve its members through fiber upgrades to its electric system, while also providing those members access to lightning-fast fiber optic internet.
In order to make our vision become a reality, we have to break up the project into smaller, manageable pieces. We took that approach with Phase 1. Two years of planning and another 18 months of construction have resulted in a fiber ring backbone that connects our offices and substations. When Phase 1 is finished in spring 2022, Sprout will be available to more than 12,000 co-op members.
Moving forward, our plan is to look at Sprout expansion based on manageable goals for the next 12 months. You can anticipate every year in the fall, Cullman Electric Cooperative will announce its plans for the next calendar year. In 2022, that means more than 9,000 co-op members will see Sprout come to their service location.
2022 Service Areas
The question everyone wants to know, is how will Cullman Electric Cooperative decide when and where Sprout will go next? Below are the five factors we use in our strategic decision-making process:
Demand is a big factor in helping us determine what areas we go to next, because the revenue generated from Sprout subscribers is needed to fund future expansion. The best way for Cullman Electric Cooperative to measure demand is based on how many people have filled out a Sprout interest form online. This means it is important that you ask your friends and neighbors to preregister at cullmanec.com/sprout. Demand is not the only factor, so preregistrations do not guarantee an area will get Sprout first, but it gives us valuable data on which areas have the most demand for Sprout.
Reaching the underserved
Our main goal with Sprout is to provide the rural communities we serve access to quality internet. Twenty-five percent of our service territory still does not have any access to internet, and other areas do not have access to a quality internet connection. We keep these areas in mind as we plan where to go next.
Every Cullman Electric Cooperative member owns this co-op, and it is our responsibility to be conscientious with your money. Financially, this is a big undertaking for the cooperative, and going to the areas where we will receive a return on the investment is our primary goal. Revenue drives action. We need to know that there are members who will spend money on this project. The best way to show your interest and commitment to the improvement of our community is to preregister at cullmanec.com/sprout and tell your friends and neighbors to do the same. Also, if you know someone who lives in an area that has Sprout, encourage them to become a subscriber.
Many electric cooperatives across the country are funding their fiber projects with grant money. This is an option for Sprout, but anytime you receive grant money there are stipulations that accompany the agreement. We are currently pursuing grant opportunities that make the most sense for the cooperative, allowing us to grow Sprout faster while meeting our financial and strategic goals.
Fiber allows Cullman Electric Cooperative to utilize technology that helps us provide our members with the best electric service possible. The Phase 1 plan was designed around building a loop that connected all of our offices and substations. In the years to come, we will be looking for the best ways to modify that loop into a mesh grid that gives our electric system redundant connections. By doing this, we can create a better electric and fiber system, which will mean better service to our members.