Jackson County REMC To Bring Broadband Internet To Rural Areas

Jackson County REMC officials announced last week that the organization would be forming a subsidiary to bring fiber-optic broadband internet service to its customers.
The initial effort will be rolled out in much of Jackson County as Phase 1. The Electric cooperative’s initial investment will be nearly $5.5 million. The Jackson County Council unanimously approved tax abatement for the expansion last Wednesday.
“This is a very similar story to the challenging, but necessary decision that was made to provide electricity to the rural areas almost 80 years ago when the Rural Electrification Association was established to bring electricity to the rural communities,” said REMC General Manager Mark McKinney. “This was a difficult, yet strategic decision to provide high-speed broadband services over fiber-to-the-home connection to our members. This is a decision that will prepare us for the current and future needs of our members and the REMC.”
Several factors were taken into consideration: enhancing the quality of life for members, agricultural and agribusiness needs, providing an enhanced path for education and healthcare opportunities, keeping our communities economically viable, and developing a plan where no REMC member is left out. All of these factors fall under Cooperative Principle #7: Concern for Community, said McKinney.
The fiber optic network will not only provide high-speed broadband internet services, but will also enhance the efficiency and communications to the electric cooperative’s existing smart grid equipment.
Utilizing a multi-phased approach, the project will be take approximately five years to complete in its entirety, barring any unexpected delays.
“It is important to us that our members understand this project will be a significant undertaking,” said Matt Persinger, Technology Manager for the rural electric cooperative. “However, our members should rest assured your electric service will not be negatively affected. Safe, reliable, and affordable electric service will remain a key focus of our business.”
Jim Plump, Executive Director of Jackson County Industrial Development Corporation, supported the request for tax abatement to the county council.
“I would point out that Jackson County REMC serves customers in 10 counties in southern Indiana and the total investment in this project over the next five years will top $60 million throughout the service territory,” Plump said.
“Less than 6% of Jackson county REMC members have access to what the FCC defines as minimum download speeds,” he noted.
Plump told the council that Realtors have expressed concern about the difficulty in selling homes in rural areas of Jackson County that do not have adequate broadband service. “This is a major issue for working and learning from home. Think about those students who need high speed access to complete homework assignments, do research projects, take online tests,” he told the council.
He added that available, desirable housing for the county’s industrial workforce is an important part of his job to help industries expand.
Jackson County REMC can provide this vital service because they have 2,900 miles of distribution power lines to over 24,200 customers in their 10-county service area and they will be able to utilize those poles and easements to run this fiber to the home, Plump said.
“We are hopeful to be coming back within a year or two to request additional abatements on more investment in Jackson County,” he added.
While residents of the town of Crothersville will not be impacted by the REMC broadband decision, a portion of the town’s industrial park expanded towards Bethany Road is in the REMC territory and will be benefited as well as the cooperative’s customers outside of the town limits.
The projected investment by REMC in Vernon Township is over $214, 600.
Construction for the first phase in Jackson County is scheduled to begin August 1 of this year with completion around August 2018. The company said the project will result in five new employees in 2017 and possibly five more in 2018.