Rural-focused service provider Nextlink announced plans yesterday to deploy fiber and fixed wireless broadband in 10 counties in east central Illinois in cooperation with Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative (EIEC).
An EIEC spokesperson said the cooperative is not contributing toward the cost of the network build. Instead, the spokesman said in an email response to questions from Telecompetitor: “EIEC is in the process of implementing an advanced metering system. It requires an extensive communication network. We’ve been able to work with Nextlink on some shared sites where we both need infrastructure, including some locations owned by EIEC.”
The spokesperson added: “Because we believe in Nextlink’s approach and business model, we’re happy to allow them to utilize our existing tower locations and other assets.”
In addition, EIEC will promote Nextlink’s service to its members and “our strategic allowance will allow Nextlink to offer special incentives to EIEC members,” which would be a “win-win-win,” the spokesperson said.
According to a press release about the Nextlink electric cooperative plans, the fixed wireless service that Nextlink will deploy will support speeds of at least 100 Mbps and up to 1 Gbps in certain areas.
“Expect to see internet service from Nextlink to become available over much of east central Illinois in early 2022,” the release said.
Nextlink also noted that concurrently with the project, the company will roll out “extensive IoT (Internet of Things) network coverage in east central Illinois to facilitate the use of IoT devices in the agricultural sector.”
CAF II and RDOF
Nextlink was a big winner in the 2018 Connect America Fund (CAF II) rural broadband funding program and was one of the largest winning bidders in the subsequent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) rural broadband funding program. The company was awarded $281 million in CAF II funding and is slated to receive $429 million in the RDOF program.
The FCC used a reverse auction to award CAF II and RDOF funding to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to unserved areas. Funding went to the company that committed to deploying broadband in an area at the lowest level of support.
Like most of the other large winning bidders, Nextlink is still waiting to receive final approval from the FCC on its RDOF funding.
Partnerships between broadband providers and rural electric cooperatives are becoming more and more commonplace. The electric cooperatives are member owned, and when members lack good broadband service, they often look to address the issue through the cooperative.
While some electric cooperatives build their own networks, others prefer to partner with a company that already has experience in that area.
As the EIEC spokesperson explained, “Our goal is to help our members and help our communities. Our area is currently underserved when it comes to reliable broadband service. We view Nextlink as an extremely attractive company to have a strategic alliance with because of their track record of exceptional service and their desire to build out a new fiber/wireless network in our area.”