Calix, a leading global provider of broadband communications access systems and software, honored Midwest Energy Cooperative with the 2016 Innovation Award in late October at their User Group Conference in Las Vegas. A highlight of the annual event, the Innovation Awards honor customers that best demonstrate how Calix solutions have transformed their businesses and customer experiences. Calix has a customer base of service providers in 85 countries, and is the largest telecommunications vendor in the world focused solely on the access space.
Calix recognized Midwest Energy Cooperative for its leadership in bringing high-speed internet solutions to its largely unserved and underserved rural service territory. Midwest is a member-owned electric cooperative, and in 2014 began implementing a robust, two-way fiber communication system across its electric distribution grid to maximize smart grid opportunities for utility and member benefit. The co-op is now leveraging that investment and using Calix hardware and software solutions to deliver fiber internet to homes and businesses through Midwest Connections.
“In the 1930s, electric cooperatives were organized to bring power and light to the rural space when incumbent utilities wouldn’t,” says Robert Hance, president/CEO of Midwest Energy Cooperative. “Fast forward nearly 80 years and we have a similar inequity with internet access. Our members have looked to us for years for a solution, and now we’re actively bridging the rural digital divide with fiber internet.”
More than 3000 co-op members across southwest Michigan are now using the service, with thousands more in the pipeline. “High-speed internet is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity,” Hance continues. “This is a game changer for rural America. We are ensuring that rural residents have the same opportunities as their urban counterparts, including options like telecommuting, online education and entertainment, home security, and telemedicine services.”
He adds, “Pockets of our membership do have broadband access, but most are still relegated to satellite and DSL. We’re not only opening the door of opportunity with a reliable and affordable option, but we’re offering what is currently considered the gold standard of all internet platforms.” Midwest offers symmetrical and non-symmetrical packages beginning at 25 megabits per second download, and extending through gigabit speed service.
Midwest soft-launched the fiber deployment in Schoolcraft and Edwardsburg in 2014. Based on the success of the soft launch, the cooperative board directed staff to fully deploy service across southwest Michigan over a five-year build, from 2015 to 2019. Officials divided the service territory into 23 zones, based largely on electric substation service area. By the end of 2016, 11 of the 23 zones will be lit and service activation underway. Co-op officials recently announced the 2017 construction plan, which includes North Dowagiac, Marcellus and Mattawan Zones. The remaining nine zones will be built and lit between 2018 and 2019, the final two years of the initial deployment. Once the southwest Michigan electric service territory is fully built, attention will turn to the southeast Michigan service territory, and remote areas outside of the electric distribution system.
“We have been approached by townships, subdivisions, industrial parks and other individuals, groups and businesses inside and outside of our service area about extending fiber,” Hance says. “This service is changing the landscape of opportunity for homes and businesses, and we fully expect to grow the offering well beyond our electric service territory once our initial deployment is complete.”