wireless lanBandera Electric Cooperative, based in rural Texas, aims to rely heavily on WiFi to bring broadband to its customers. The Bandera Electric Cooperative WiFi plans include installing fiber on the company’s existing poles, to which the company also will add WiFi access points, a company spokeswoman told Telecompetitor.

“Initial offerings will include last mile wireless services in the 10-50 Mbps range,” the company said in an email to Telecompetitor. Pricing has not yet been determined.

Bandera Electric Cooperative WiFi plans also include offering free WiFi in two public parks and along Main Street in the town of Bandera. “The range will be approximately one half block in either direction,” the company said.

Before launching the WiFi broadband service throughout the town, BEC is planning a trial that will involve 200 homes. Service to the homes will be provided using “a variety of 802.11n/ac offerings,” the company said.

The company expects to deploy service more broadly after the trial, which is expected to last about six months.

Electric Cooperative WiFi
One of the benefits of using a WiFi approach to broadband is that Bandera won’t have to install any equipment inside customers’ homes, as the company notes in a press release. Instead customers will be able to use the WiFi built into their computers, smartphones or other devices.

The idea of using WiFi to deliver broadband may be most practical for a power company like Bandera that already has pole infrastructure. The existing poles would appear to be good locations for the WiFi access points and the pole infrastructure most likely already extends close to most end user homes.

Such an approach also might work for a telco that had aerial outside plant. But it would be less practical for a telco or utility company that relies on buried cabling.

“In a time when demographic changes are reflecting population decreases across rural America to urban areas, this is a technology that will allow people to work from anywhere and access telemedicine and distance learning opportunities,” said Bandera Electric Cooperative CEO William Hetherington in a press release announcing BEC’s broadband plans. “Many students in rural areas must rely on local libraries for the Internet access they cannot get at home. Unfortunately the libraries close at 6:00 p.m. Access to the   world of knowledge through the Internet is as essential in education these days as textbooks.”

Bandera’s news comes just days after another rural electric cooperative – California’s Anza Electric Cooperative – also announced plans to bring broadband to its rural serving area, but using fiber-to-the-home.

Both Anza and Bandera expect to use their fiber infrastructure to support communications for their electric power infrastructure. That could be a win-win as fiber connectivity should help enhance power network reliability while also improving the economics of the broadband deployment.

Bandera and Anza are just two examples of rural electric cooperatives that have responded to customers’ demand for broadband service, despite the relatively high cost of deploying broadband in rural areas.

As Anza Electric Cooperative’s general manager told Telecompetitor, “Cooperatives have very unique business models. One of the major principles is local economic development and concern for the community.”

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