goBEC at 2,700 subscribers, growing
Fiber lines more than a year ahead of scheduled completion date
The goBEC fiberoptic project is more than a year ahead of its original completion date and is making leaps in numbers of subscribers.
Mark Aeilts, goBEC and Barry Electric Cooperative general manager, said there are currently 2,700 subscribers for goBEC, which is 1,000 new subscribers in a little less than a year.
“We are moving along very quickly and are at least a year-and-a-half if not two years ahead of schedule,” he said. “We are 30 percent under budget and we are trying to get the project completed as fast as possible.”
Aeilts said the project is an 8-phase project. Phase one was Cassville, phase two was Roaring River, phase three was Exeter, phase four was Washburn and phase five was Seligman.
“We were going to go on to phase six and seven which is Jenkins and Shell Knob, but we have been delayed there due to some electric lines,” he said. “We are rebuilding 106 miles of electric line there, which included plots, wires and other equipment.”
Aeilts said that contractor working on that project is not finished yet.
“So, we went over to Wheaton, which was phase eight,” he said. “We completed Wheaton and it has been lit up.”
Aeilts said in the first six of the eight phases, they would wait until an entire phase is lit up before signing up even one customer.
“This was so that we could open a whole phase at one time,” he said. “The Wheaton tornado came through on May 1, and fortunately no-one was connected at that time and we were able to rebuild it a second time before we connected anyone.”
Aeilts said they were just about to light it up when the tornado hit.
“We were able to get customers signed up by the end of May,” he said. “At the same time, there is something called a fiber ring, which means the line goes out from our office and goes in a circle between all of those locations. That ring was simultaneously being built and included Jenkins and Shell Knob.”
Aeilts said now that work has been done, they can go on to work off of that ring.
“There is a star pattern that comes off of that ring,” he said. “We used to wait until a whole phase was lit up before we signed people on, but in Jenkins and Shell Knob, the ring is already there so each time one radio feed or star is in place we can go ahead and let them sign up.”
Aeilts said in the case of Jenkins and Shell Knob, goBEC sent out about 80 letters to the people that are on the ring, and of that, there are already 30 plus customers that have signed up and are being connected.
“It isn’t all of Jenkins and Shell Knob — right now it is just the people right next to the ring,” he said. “The next radio feed, which is in what we call the Shell Knob build, is getting 100 letters that went out last week.”
Aeilts said this is the next group that can sign up, and they will continue with this process of signing people up as goBEC moves along.
“That will go all the way through all of those customers, which is probably 1,500 in Jenkins and Shell Knob,” he said. “They will be added in an increment of about 100 customers every other month or so.”
Aeilts said by April 2020, all customers should be eligible to sign up.
“That moves our completion date up to April of 2020 instead of the original date on 2021,” he said. “There are three different contractors, and the main line contractor will be done by April 2020. The second is the contractor that connects the main line to the outside of the house, and the third connects inside of the house.”
Aeilts said there was a plan to send out surveys to Purdy, Fairview and Butterfield by the end of 2018.
“However, because of the delays with the electric contractor and other delays, we are still working on that but we have not yet sent them out,” he said. “We are looking to start a survey sometime within the next year, and I would narrow the scope of that now to Fairview and Butterfield.”
Aeilts said the only reason he doesn’t include Purdy in that is because to go to Fairview and Butterfield is one level of risk on investment.
“To go beyond that, it would be another level of risk and would require much more investment, and to go beyond that is much more” he said. “The three layers of risk are being talked about, but the first layer will happen within the next year and that is talking about non-electric members.”
Aeilts said said the first priority is to go to electric customers that want it, the second priority is to survey the need for Fairview and Butterfield, and the third priority is to go beyond that.
“It is not that we are opposed to going beyond that, it is just that we have to satisfy these first levels first,” he said.
Aeilts said he believe the reason the project is so ahead of schedule and so far under budget is a combination of support from the board of directors to mettle economic development needs of the community, and the teamwork of the employees.
“I have spoken with a gentleman whose entire business is run from home,” he said. “He is using our gig service, and he is using one of the higher speeds of service, and he explains to me that some of his peers, even those in big cities, are jealous of his connection speed. That is feedback coming from urban areas of the country.”
Aeilts said goBEC is selling at 250 megabits download for $50.
“That compares with the competition in town of 5 megabit download for $100,” he said. “That is for interrupted service, so it isn’t really quality service.”
Aeilts said other local competitors are saying they will give service for $30 per month with 25, 50 or 100 megabit download.
“The problem is that $30 bill is only locked in for 12 months, so at month 13 it jumps to $80 for the same service,” he said. “In our case, we refuse to do that. People take our option because they like our service, like that we are local and like that we are a quick response in maintenance, and we offer that for $50.
“That $50 is what it takes for us to provide this service at a not-for-profit base, and we are not going to charge more because we are here to serve.”
Aeilts said the big differentiators are the price, speed and maintenance.
“If a customer does have an interruption, we have 24/7 phone service and will be there in person within 24-48 hours,” he said. “We are trying to serve our communities like we always have with electric and make sure everybody has what they need.”