I am excited to announce that at the May board meeting, your Orange County REMC board of directors made the difficult, yet strategic, decision to provide high-speed broadband services to our members. Several factors were taken into consideration, such as enhancing the quality of life, business and agribusiness needs; keeping our communities economically viable; and providing an enhanced access for education and health care opportunities. All of these factors are found under the seventh cooperative principle — concern for community. This was a major decision to expand the services we provide to prepare us to meet the current and future needs of our members.
Over the last 18 months, we have evaluated options to provide a true high-speed broadband solution. The process began in 2016 with a survey, which indicated our members’ need and desire for high-speed internet. The need for a high-speed connection and internet access has gone from a luxury to a necessity. Unfortunately, most of our members are currently at risk of being overlooked, as large companies are already serving the highly populated areas, but not providing service to the rural communities. This is a very similar story to the challenging, but necessary decision made to provide electricity to the rural areas more than 80 years ago.
Orange County REMC’s staff has actively studied the possibilities of a fiber optic network that would not only provide high-speed broadband services to all members, but would also enhance the communication capabilities and efficiency to our existing grid equipment. Some additional steps that have been taken include the hiring of a consultant to conduct a feasibility study. This study was used to develop a business plan. It indicated that the project would be financially feasible and allowed us to develop a business plan that included the operational details of constructing, operating and maintaining the system. We then reached out to ask the members their thoughts. A statistically valid survey was conducted to identify what internet service and speed members currently have, what price members are willing to pay, and how likely members would subscribe to the service. The results from this survey were overwhelmingly positive.
While much preparation has already occurred, there is still a considerable amount of planning and work to do before construction will begin. We know our members want and need fast and affordable broadband services now. Nevertheless, we ask that you continue to be patient as we develop the best long-term solution for you. We expect this project will take approximately four years to complete, and we intend to keep you informed along the way.
It is important to us that our members understand this project will be a significant undertaking; however, rest assured your electric service will not be negatively affected. Safe, reliable and affordable electric service will remain the primary focus of our business.
Thank you for your time and patience, and we are looking forward to undertaking this project together.
Matthew C. Deaton