ECE map

Blue represents ECE service area.

 

Area residents frustrated with not having high-speed internet access may have a solution in the not-so distant future. The East Central Energy Board of Directors voted on Nov. 19, 2021, to move forward with developing a plan for a full-fiber-to-the-home project. 

A completed feasibility study has indicated that, with the appropriate funding from grants and other sources, it is reasonable for ECE to provide fiber throughout its service territory. ECE will be spending the next few months putting together a comprehensive plan for the businesses and residents in its 14-county service territory. Upon completion, the board will make a final determination on the overall project. The plan will be designed based on fiber only and will lay out a phased approach for a project that could cost as much as $300 million.

“As many of you know, electric cooperatives have helped solve the broadband problem across the nation and have been successful in large-scale deployments,” said Ty Houglum, vice president and chief information officer for East Central Energy. “Maintaining ECE’s financial solvency is non-negotiable, and we will move forward with this project only if that is protected by appropriate funding. Therefore, we will be working to develop relationships and communicate with the communities we serve.”

Houglum said community engagement and a singular voice is of the utmost importance in securing funding for a project like the one ECE is exploring. 

“We’re asking you to consider supporting this effort at a local, county, state and federal level,” he said. “What that support looks like remains to be seen, but this is an opportunity to bridge the digital divide once and for all.”

Houglum noted that beyond retail broadband, ECE would “position itself as an electric co-op providing safe, reliable electricity, while moving forward with smart grid initiatives and implementing technologically relevant solutions to industry trends. 

“This solution would provide many layers of value to taxpayers, and we are hopeful that it will receive support from policy leaders and funding decision makers,” he said.

As the plan comes together, ECE will share more information and will be reaching out to many of the local entities it serves to see how they can collaborate on this regional project.

 ECE, headquartered in Braham, is a member-owned electric cooperative. Formed in 1936, it provides electric service to more than 62,000 homes, farms and businesses in east central Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin.

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