An electric cooperative in rural Missouri looking to build two pilot fiber-to-the-home networks has found a novel way of raising community support. The company, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, plans to go ahead with construction if it gets 35% of customers in the serving areas to put down a $100 deposit and commit to taking a year of broadband service. To sweeten the offering, the company has garnered the support of two local banks, which have agreed to pay the $100 deposit for their first customers to sign up.

One bank is paying the fee for its first 30 customers. The other is paying the fee for its first 100 customers.

According to the Co-Mo Electric web site, the FTTH project is being explored through a separate subsidiary, Co-Mo Comm, which has set a target date of May 16 for reaching its target goal. If the target is not met by that date, the pilot networks will not be built and all deposits will be refunded, the company says. If the company succeeds in meeting its target, its goal is to have the pilot networks delivering service by the end of the year.

According to a web site devoted to the Co-Mo Comm pilot project, the company is 71% of the way toward reaching its goal.

Co-Mo Electric’s plans came about, in part, as a result of its unsuccessful bid for broadband stimulus funding. “After the government failed to approve our grant request, the Co-Mo Electric Board of Directors authorized the staff to conduct a feasibility study to determine if building a fiber-to-the-home broadband network would be possible without stimulus funding,” the company says on the Co-Mo Comm web site. “That study showed us that it would, indeed, be possible if there was a certain percentage of residents in the service territory who subscribed to the service.” The company adds that it can build the FTTH networks without raising electricity rates if the target commitment level is met.

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The company plans to offer three service tiers—5 Mb/s, 20 Mb/s or 35 Mb/s service for monthly charges of $30, $50 and $60, respectively. The company also plans to offer VoIP service using “a national VOIP provider similar to Vonage or other ones that cable companies use” for an additional $25 a month. If the pilot is successful, the company said video also will likely be an option for all subscribers.

On the company’s web site is a chart apparently intended to pique customers’ interest by showing some of the applications that broadband service can support—including video sites such as AppleTV,  GoogleTV, and Roku;  home automation and surveillance options such as NightOwl and Intwine; and health care applications such as and

Also among the applications are some that could help the electric company in meeting growing pressure to operate more efficiently and help conserve energy such as a “Power by the Hour” application aimed at enabling customers to remotely monitor energy usage and an application from Cyber-Rain that checks weather forecasts and automatically adjust sprinkler systems.

A close look at Co-Mo Comm’s site suggests that the company may have a cost advantage over some other companies that might attempt to deploy FTTH in a similar rural environment. “The fiber optics will follow Co-Mo’s electric lines,” the web site says. “If they are overhead, then the fiber will be overhead as well. When the electric lines are underground, the fiber will be installed underground.”

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