Windstream said today that it will partner with rural electric co-op Colquitt Electric Membership Corp. on a broadband buildout in rural Georgia. In an interview with Telecompetitor, Jeff Small, president of Windstream’s Kinetic business unit, shared details about the partners’ plans for the network, which will rely primarily on fiber-to-the-premises infrastructure and will support speeds up to a gigabit per second.

The network will be “jointly built” and “jointly owned,” Small said, and will include “very rural” areas where Windstream is the incumbent telco and Colquitt is the electric service provider. Colquitt’s service territory has an average of seven households per square mile, a Windstream spokesperson said.

The buildout essentially represents an overbuild of Windstream’s existing DSL network, which currently provides speeds between 10 Mbps and 100 Mbps downstream.

“In many cases, they [Colquitt] will use their labor force to place the fiber but the fiber will be owned by Windstream, and Colquitt will have an IRU [indefeasible right of use] for [its] own use,” Small said. Colquitt will use the IRU for internal communications and grid modernization, Small noted.

The agreement between the companies also calls for Windstream to use Colquitt assets such as rights of way and poles.

The partners have not yet released a timeline for construction. The timeline, along with buildout areas, will be determined on an ongoing basis.

“We meet together, scratch out where we want to address, then begin to work on that,” Small explained. Areas will be targeted based on “the needs of the community,” he said.

Windstream/ Colquitt plans call for Windstream to act as the broadband service provider in buildout areas. Small declined to answer a question from us about how revenues might be shared.

Windstream Rural Electric Co-op Partnership
The Windstream/ Colquitt deal came about after Georgia laws changed to encourage electric membership companies to get into the broadband business.

Jeff Small

Colquitt General Manager Danny Nichols believed a partnership would make more sense than trying to go it alone on a broadband buildout and reached out to Windstream to explore a potential partnership.

“We were more than happy to have those conversations,” Small told Telecompetitor. “We put together a way we could go forward. . . The partnership allows them to do what they’re really good at and allows us to do what we’re really good at.”

Windstream, he said, “really is a rural focused LEC [local exchange carrier] – we’re very good at planning and building these networks.”

In a press release , Nichols noted that through discussions, Windstream and Colquitt “have found a common goal” and that “we look forward to impacting our members and Windstream customers.”

Although Windstream in some cases has used government funding programs to help make a business case for rural buildouts, Small said that “at this time, there is no such state or federal program we could have used for what we’re talking about with Colquitt.”

The partnership, he said, “absolutely allows us to do builds that otherwise wouldn’t have been economically justified.”

Windstream would be interested in similar partnerships with other electric companies or municipalities, Small said.

“One thing I’m hopeful for is that others will see this partnership and realize that Windstream is open for business” for opportunities of this kind, he said.

Windstream isn’t the only larger telecom carrier to enter a broadband partnership with an electric company. Earlier this year, Cincinnati Bell reached a similar agreement with Butler Rural Electric involving rural Ohio. Typically these telco-electric partnerships include smaller rural carriers and electric co-ops who are in close proximity with each other. This is a trend to watch.

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