CASSOPOLIS, MI — Rural portions of Edwardsburg and Schoolcraft, along with other parts of southwest Michigan, have joined the big cities of Atlanta, Charlotte and Kansas City in having gigabit speed Internet service available. Midwest Connections, teaming up with Midwest Energy Cooperative, launched a fiber-to-the-premise Internet service in 2014, offering the first true broadband experience to homes and businesses in rural southwest Michigan. TeamFiber is now delivering Internet with download speeds up to 100 Mbps to more than 700 subscribers in portions of southwest Michigan, bridging the communication gap that has impacted those living and working in rural America.
“It’s amazing to consider that most of our subscribers have only had access to dial-up, satellite and DSL services previously, and now have access to the best technology with some of the highest speed offerings in the broadband marketplace,” says Bob Hance, president/CEO of Midwest Energy Cooperative. “Fiber Internet is literally changing the social, economic and educational landscape of our rural area, and the gigabit offering is just one more competitive leg up for southwest Michigan.”
Midwest Energy Cooperative Investing in its Electric Distribution System
Midwest Connections is an unregulated service of Midwest Energy Cooperative, a regional electric distribution system serving about 36,000 customers across southern Michigan, northern Indiana and Ohio. The fiber Internet offering is a byproduct of the co-op’s commitment to invest in its electric distribution system for future utility benefit.
“Technology is changing at a fast and furious pace, and we need to be prepared as the electric utility to deliver the products and services that our members want and need,” Hance explains. “We don’t know what’s coming, but we do know that the next generation of energy efficiency, safety, and reliability standards will require robust, two-way communications across the electric grid. By today’s standards, fiber is the ultimate communications platform and will provide us with better information and data to serve our electric members. At the same time, it will allow us to offer a true high-speed voice and data solution for those who choose to subscribe to that service.”
Symmetrical and Non-symmetrical Packages
With the addition of gigabit speed, subscribers now have access to two different Internet products, each offering four speed plans. The symmetrical products offer comparable download and upload speeds, which benefits users who transmit significant data and files up to the Internet. Examples include individuals who transfer large files; use cloud storage for photos, video or other data; and participate in online gaming or two-way videoconferencing. Symmetrical packages start at $79.95 for 25 Mbps, and the new gigabit package is $249.95 for 1 gigabit per second (Gbps).
Non-symmetrical products start at $49.95/month for 25 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream, and the new gigabit package is $149.95/month for 1 Gbps down and 100 Mbps up. Residential and business telephone packages are also available beginning at $39.95 per month. More detail on products and packages can be viewed at TeamFiber.com.
Need for Gigabit Speeds to Grow as Technology Changes
While Hance believes few users currently need gigabit service, he is confident that the need will grow as technology changes. “There’s a lot of anecdotal data showing that households are increasingly using more bandwidth, primarily for video, and higher speeds will be necessary to maximize that experience. The demand for speed will only continue to increase as we bring more technology into our homes and businesses, and we’re now equipped to bring our subscribers the speeds they need for the applications they use.”
Taking a Crowdsourcing Approach to Construction
TeamFiber launched fiber Internet in small test markets in Edwardsburg and Schoolcraft in 2014, then committed to a five-year build-out of its entire southwest Michigan service territory. In 2015, fiber service was or will yet be extended off of the initial launch areas into southwest Dowagiac, Calvin, northwest Cassopolis and north Three Rivers. TeamFiber is using a crowdsourcing approach to determine subsequent construction plans over the course of the five-year build. The southwest Michigan service area was divided into zones, based largely on substation service areas, and members in each zone are challenged to generate interest and secure sign ups. Based on zone growth, the first two builds of 2016 were recently announced and include the East Vickburg/North Mendon zone and the Southwest Edwardsburg/ East Niles Zone.
TeamFiber is focusing attention first in the southwest Michigan electric service area, as the southeast Michigan area has more access to high-speed solutions. “Broadband Internet is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity,” Hance says. “Today’s story is so much like the electrification of rural America in the 1930s. Incumbents won’t come in to the rural space, so the rural space is taking care of its own. We’ve talked to our members for years about the need, and it’s so gratifying that we’re now in a position to answer that call in a meaningful way. Fiber Internet is a game changer for rural America, and we’re honored to be the solution provider and lead the charge to affect change.”