Ohio-based Consolidated Electric Cooperative was in the news today because it selected ADTRAN to provide equipment for the 166-mile fiber network it plans to build, funded in part, through the broadband stimulus program. The announcement spotlights a project that is noteworthy for at least two reasons.

For starters, CEC was one of a small minority of electric utilities that won funding through the broadband stimulus program. Its award consisted of a $1,034,413 grant and a $1,399,499 loan from the Rural Utilities Service, which largely favored small incumbent rural telcos in making broadband stimulus awards.

Perhaps more noteworthy is how CEC plans to use the network. It will essentially be a dual-use network. On the one hand the network will connect 16 CEC power substations to support smart grid monitoring capabilities. In addition the middle mile network will offer wholesale carrier Ethernet and 10G wavelength services for other communications service providers looking to extend high-speed data voice and video services in central Ohio.

“We believe broadband plays a key role in rural development and is a vital infrastructure component in attracting and stimulating economic development,” said Doug Payauys, CIO and vice president of information systems for CEC in today’s announcement.

The move illustrates a potential trend worth noting. Electric utilities will increasingly be looking for broadband infrastructure to support their smart grid initiatives. They can either build that infrastructure themselves or buy/lease the capacity from existing networks (assuming they are available). There is debate within the telecom industry as to whether communication breakdowns between telcos and electrics prevent better collaboration regarding network planning and utilization. The fear is duplicative networks may be built, where electrics overbuild existing telecom networks, perhaps unknowingly.

This CEC example probably doesn’t fit the duplicative example, considering its partially funded by the stimulus program. But it does highlight the potential growth of electric utilities building and operating regional fiber networks with potentially competitive implications beyond just smart grid applications. When completed the CEC network is expected to support broadband services to nearly 36,000 households, more than 2,000 businesses and 40 anchor institutions.

The ADTRAN platform that CEC selected is the Total Access 5000 with integrated Optical Networking Edge (ONE) capability. It will enable CEC to efficiently deliver and aggregate 1G and 10G carrier Ethernet services based on a resilient Ethernet multi-ring implementation, while also supporting the delivery of multiple services over an optical transport network, ADTRAN said.

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