A Message from the General Manager
As most of Claiborne Electric’s members know, our management team and Board of Directors have been interested in meeting the need for reliable, affordable broadband Internet service in our service area. Our members and people in our area have been vocal and adamant that this area is direly underserved and overcharged for adequate Internet service. Our members have been asking for an update on our efforts, and I believe we have found a possible way to provide this service to residents in the parishes we serve. Some information (and some misinformation) about this new proposal has made its way to public forums, and I would like to update our members and area residents to make sure correct information is available.
Late last year, we were approached by a member who had been watching the success of a public-private partnership to provide fiber optic Internet service in south Louisiana. After a timely analysis of this partnership, our Board of Directors decided to revise our comprehensive feasibility study to see if this type of partnership could succeed in our area. The feasibility study shows an outstanding opportunity for residents in the parishes we serve. We are proposing a partnership between the parish government and Claiborne Electric in the parishes where we provide electric service. The parish would own the infrastructure, and a Claiborne Electric subsidiary would operate the business, taking care of installation, maintenance, and all related services. Each parish would be an independent, stand-alone partnership. Under this new proposal, fiber optic Internet service would be offered to every resident and business in the parish, regardless of the company providing their electric service.
The retail rates under this new proposal are astounding. The pricing structure proposed in the new business model is as follows:
- Residential 50 Mb upload and download speed (no data caps) $19.95/month
- Residential 100 Mb upload and download speed (no data caps) $39.95/month
- Residential 1 Gb upload and download speed (no data caps) $69.95/month
- Residential telephone (VOIP) if bundled with Internet $14.95/month
- Residential telephone (VOIP) alone $19.95/month
- Small business 100 Mb/100 Mb (no data caps, includes static IP) $79.95/month
- Large business rates would be negotiated based upon individual needs.
As a reminder, to be considered true broadband service, an Internet Service Provider must offer download speeds of at least 30 megabytes per second. Most people in our area have a service that offers single-digit download speeds, and we are paying through the nose for those speeds, not to mention running out of data and paying overage charges!
So, where would the funding come from to build out the infrastructure? The capital for this proposal would need to be provided through a property tax. I know this phrase is not one that will make many of our rural residents excited, but I would urge each person, when final numbers are available, to look at the way this proposal would impact his own personal bottom-line expenses. A $20 monthly charge for fiber optic Internet service could eliminate the following household expenses every month:
- Internet service bill for satellite or cell-based Internet service – Most people are currently paying exponentially more than $20 per month for service speeds far below what fiber optic service would provide.
- Landline telephone bill – Residents and businesses with a landline would be able to eliminate it and replace it with VOIP service for $15-$20 per month.
- Satellite television service – With fiber optic Internet service without data caps, satellite TV could easily be replaced with streaming devices that are far less expensive than monthly satellite charges.
I believe this service would save families monthly expenses that would more than cover a tax increase for the vast majority of residents.
It is important to remember that no parish government has taken action to place this matter on a ballot for consideration by voters. The reason for this update is to provide members with accurate information concerning the proposal, and to correct some misinformation that had made its way to public online forums. At this point, studies have been completed for Claiborne, Webster, and Union Parishes. Government officials are in the process of reviewing those studies. Officials in Bienville and Lincoln Parishes are also interested in seeing a study for their parish. I have commissioned those studies and will provide them to those two parishes when they become available.
Mill levies, if approved by a vote of residents in each parish, will vary depending upon the capital required to build the infrastructure in that parish. Estimated capital required in the three completed studies ranges from $46 million in Claiborne Parish to $63 million in Webster Parish, with Union Parish between the two at $57 million. I expect that to cover the required capital, most parishes would need to pass a tax in the range of 15-20 mills.
If government officials decide to move forward with this proposal after a thorough review of the studies, it would be placed on a ballot for consideration by voters. Any parish can elect to proceed with the proposal without regard to the vote in other parishes. Each parish would be an independent business. If voters elect to move forward, business startup activity would initiate within six months. The buildout would take approximately two years, with residents able to use the service as soon as it passes their home or business.
I understand this new proposal is an outside-the-box idea, but we need a resourceful, effective solution for our area, and none of the large profit-driven companies are offering fiber Internet service for all of us. We are losing families, businesses, and economic opportunities because this necessary service is not available. We want to meet this need, and I believe we can have incredible Internet service that saves our families and businesses money long term. I hope that you can support this proposal. If you have questions, I would be more than glad to talk. Please feel free to e-mail me at Mark@our.coop. I can also be reached in the Homer office at 318.927.3504, or in the Farmerville office at 318.368.3011. Again, thank you for your membership. We appreciate you.
Mark A. Brown
General Manager & CEO
Claiborne Electric Cooperative