MANY, La. – The first Louisiana rural electric cooperative to enter the internet business will begin construction next month on a broadband service for its 11,500 members, thanks to approval Wednesday by the Louisiana Public Service Commission.
“History is being made here today,” LPSC member Foster Campbell said in supporting a $45-million loan request by Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative of Winnsboro. The commission, meeting at Cypress Bend Resort near Many, voted unanimously to authorize the borrowing for NELPCO’s “Volt Broadband” subsidiary.
Jeff Churchwell, NELPCO general manager, said Northeast and Volt will partner with Conexon Connect of Kansas City, Missouri, to conduct a two-year build-out of the fiber-based internet service. Conexon partners with electric cooperatives to offer broadband service in Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi and Florida.
Initially skeptical of the proposal and concerned about its impact on co-op electric rates, Campbell said he asked former CenturyLink executive Glen Post of Farmerville to investigate.
“(Post) was originally skeptical too, but he called several co-ops, and to his surprise he learned he was wrong, and now he says the deal can work,” Campbell said. “For me, that was the icing on the cake.”
Luke Piontek of Baton Rouge, attorney for NELPCO, said members of the Winnsboro co-op will be able to sign up for internet service during the two-year construction phase. He said pricing will start at $59 per month.
CoBank of Washington, DC, lender to the nation’s electric cooperatives, will furnish the $45-million loan. Piontek said Northeast will have the option of selling its interest in the broadband project to Conexon should interest in the service among Northeast members be less than anticipated.
“We surveyed our members at the request of Commissioner Campbell and found overwhelming support” for entering the internet business, Churchwell said. A follow-up mail survey of all 11,500 NELPCO members confirmed their interest, he said.
“The biggest thing missing in northeast Louisiana is being connected to the world,” Churchwell said. “We are delighted to be able to provide this service.”
Campbell said he expects Claiborne Electric of Homer and Concordia Electric of Jonesville will be the next Louisiana co-ops to offer internet service.
“I want all of the people of North Louisiana connected,” Campbell said.
Lambert Boissiere, New Orleans-area commissioner and LPSC chairman, said access to high-speed internet service for Northeast members marks their entry into the 21st Century.
“At some point you have to acknowledge that the legal requirements are met and it’s time to move forward and get this done,” Boissiere said.