WEC broadband

JEREMY WISE / DOTHAN EAGLE

Wiregrass Electric Cooperative Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro (left) speaks to local officials about a new broadband internet expansion project Wednesday. Joining Kimbro in the discussion were WEC CEO Les Moreland (right) and Troy Cable general manager Jake Cowen.

HARTFORD – A challenging project for Wiregrass Electric Cooperative and Troy Cable led to an achievement that will eventually pay major dividends for some Houston County residents.

The leaders of those organizations met with several key officials Wednesday to discuss the recent procurement of a $575,115 state grant that expands high-speed internet access in Houston and Geneva counties. Jake Cowen, Troy Cable general manager, said the project roots itself in another initiative to provide high-speed connections to all of WEC’s 15 electrical substations – one of which provided a major challenge.

Cowen said efforts to reach a substation near Cottonwood continuously skewed project budgets, so Troy Cable and Wiregrass Electric leaders decided to split the substation project into phases. Additionally, leaders pursued grant funding available through the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund, which currently provides up to 20 percent of costs to expand broadband internet into underserved rural areas.

Earlier this month, Gov. Kay Ivey announced Troy Cable qualified for two grants – one of which will connect the Cottonwood substation to high-speed internet services. WEC Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro said wiring the organization’s substations and service offices increases efficiency, which could keep electricity rates lower.

The project, though, will benefit residents and businesses in other ways as part of what leaders call the “Broadband for the Wiregrass” initiative.

As Troy Cable utilizes WEC’s utility poles to reach the substations, homes and businesses along the paths can obtain high-speed internet services. For the project portion that reaches the Cottonwood substation located on Houston County Road 75, residents along U.S. Highway 231, State Line Road, and other nearby thoroughfares can receive broadband services.

The project will also connect the Houston County Industrial Park, potentially increasing the chances of recruiting more industries to the area. The new grant will also service areas near Webb, Gordon, and Columbia in Houston County and several municipalities in Geneva County.

Kimbro said the organizations hope to obtain grants each year in order to expand the broadband network locally. He also compared Troy Cable’s expansion to the one his own organization has made over its existence.

“We’ve been in business 80 years, and we’re still building out our networks,” he said. “We’re estimating it will take $60 million to build out the (broadband) network.”

WEC CEO Les Moreland said the cooperative will achieve the set goals, though.

“We will prevail. It’s only a matter of how many years (it will take),” he said.

Kimbro said the companies will soon establish a website that tracks the progress of the Broadband for the Wiregrass initiative and highlights areas future projects will cover.

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