Indiana’s fifth-largest member-owned rural electric cooperative, Tipmont REMC, is using a $16 million grant from the state’s broadband grand program to provide high-speed fiber service in unserved areas throughout the state. Chief Executive Officer Ron Holcomb says the co-op has plans to add more homes to its network and expects to have about 30,000 customers connected by 2024.
In an interview on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick, Holcomb said the co-op is about more than just providing electric power.
“When you really think about it, electricity is really just a tool and what it really serves is to make sure that our customers in rural America have security, comfort and convenience,” said Holcomb. “Electricity is a key infrastructure need. Broadband is a key infrastructure need. So therefore, we don’t look at it so much from a individual service level as we look at it from a humanistic perspective.”
The co-op received the grant from the Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program in October. Holcomb says the funding helped the co-op connect about 2,200 homes to high-speed fiber internet service this year in its five-county service area, which includes Clinton, Fountain, Tippecanoe, Montgomery, and White counties.
Tipmont REMC acquired Lafayette-based technology and fiber solutions provider Wintek Corp. in December 2018, which Holcomb says was a key move in the effort to bring more broadband service to rural areas.
“As you might imagine in the startup, it’s not just access to capital. It’s also access to talent. This gave us at least a five-to-seven-year leg up in getting our broadband project launched by being able to bring on such an exciting and talented team,” said Holcomb.
As it was going through the planning process for starting its broadband effort, Tipmont REMC commissioned Purdue University to study what the economic impact of the effort would be.
“They concluded that, over a 20-year period, this broadband build would stimulate the economy to the tune of about $750 million. Our capital investment, plus our operating costs, are expected over that same period of time to be about $189 million,” said Holcomb. “So that’s a 4-1 investment and when you think about all the different aspects of our lives and the commerce that we participate in – be it in telehealth or adult education or any of those types of things – when they have access to this kind of infrastructure, it really does change the economic landscape for the state and our region.”
In addition to the broadband service, Tipmont REMC provides electric service to over 26,000 meters in eight western Indiana counties.