A Cincinnati Bell, Butler Rural Electric Cooperative partnership will expand fiber broadband to parts of rural Ohio, the companies announced today. The deal highlights the potential growing interest in telco electric partnerships for rural broadband.

The Cincinnati Bell, Butler Rural Electric partnership will initially bring Cincy Bell’s Fioptics fiber broadband service to approximately 2,000 Butler Electric members, beginning in late 2020. The offering will include 1 Gig service, home phone, whole-home Wi-Fi, and internet security. A video option will also be available, through Cincy Bell’s partnership with YouTubeTV.

The 2,000 homes passed construction is considered phase 1 of the partnership, with Cincy Bell and Butler evaluating potential expansion to Butler’s 3,000 customers who aren’t included in this initial phase. BREC serves members in portions of Butler, Hamilton, Preble, and Montgomery counties in Ohio.

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A Cincy Bell spokesman confirmed with Telecompetitor that it will maintain all customer facing responsibility for the venture, including service enablement, marketing, tech support, and billing.  A website explaining the partnership states that no BREC employees will “[b]e involved in the fiber construction, maintenance or initial set-up in the home for the services, or have any Cincinnati Bell account information once services are installed.”

BREC is a financial partner with Cincy Bell, the spokesman confirmed. That’s a partnership model that’s been used before, where the electric cooperative partner contributes funding for the network, and an operating ISP is responsible for day-to-day operations. Cincinnati Bell will also provide fiber-based services to BREC’s substations and other equipment.

“Partnering with Cincinnati Bell to bring high-speed fiber-based Internet to our members fulfills the cooperative’s mission of improving the quality of life in our communities and enhancing our electric reliability,” said Michael L. Sims, Butler Rural Electric Cooperative’s General Manager, in a press release.“The telecommunications industry is fast-changing, but we will continue to work with Cincinnati Bell until the cooperative’s members have access to fiber-based Internet service.”

There are many advocates of telco electric partnerships to help bring broadband to unserved and underserved rural markets. And many of these partnerships already exist. This one is unique in that most telco electric partnerships involve smaller rural telcos and neighboring electric cooperatives.

This partnership signals the potential to expand these partnership discussions beyond what’s been typical. Larger telcos may now be seeing a rural broadband partnership window of opportunity.

With the coming FCC RDOF program set to pump $20 billion into building broadband networks in rural markets, perhaps this partnership model will become more interesting to more players, especially considering that RDOF targets markets served by larger price cap telcos.

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