Rural Missouri - May 2022 - 8

RM | COMMUNITY
COMMUNITY
United Fiber brings rural broadband to northwest Missouri
by Zach Smith | zsmith@ruralmissouri.coop
W
hen spring 2020 arrived in Rosendale, an average
school day at the North Andrew R-4 School
District looked quite different than it had a few
weeks before. Students studied at home with
Chromebooks. Teachers took lesson plans online. And an
electric co-op's fi ber company worked tirelessly to connect
them all so valuable time wasn't lost to the COVID-19
pandemic. Faculty, staff and the student body adjusted to
a new normal, and high-speed fi ber saved the semester.
" It was an opportunity to keep education going forward, "
recalls Superintendent Mark McDaniel. " We had some
kids who didn't have the ability to get online at home, and
United was quite willing to troubleshoot those spots to
expand coverage and create hot spots. They continue to try
and fi nd ways to reach people who don't have it. "
The success for schools such as North Andrew around
United Electric's service territory - and 30 communities
who don't receive electricity from the co-op - wouldn't
have been possible without broadband internet access
from United Fiber. United Electric CEO and General
Manager Jim Bagley says it's a success story that almost
wasn't. In the early 2010s, the co-op - with an already
low density at 2.5 meters per mile of line and losing members
who were moving away from northwest Missouri -
was facing an economic challenge to maintain the reliability
of its electric grid.
" The money wasn't there for what we needed to do
and the demographics we serve, " Jim says. " I don't think
United would exist in its present form if we hadn't gotten
fi ber. It's been a lifesaver. "
The outlook is much different in 2022. Today, the co-op
serves more than 23,000 fi ber customers, and added subscribers
at an average of nearly 640 per month in 2021.
Happily, as broadband availability attracts people to the
region, United Electric is gaining member-owners for the
fi rst time in years.
United staff attribute the success to the foresight and
a leap of faith taken by the co-op's board of directors who
were already accustomed to serving sectors outside the
electric footprint. When United Services was formed as a
wholly owned subsidiary in 1994, it found success with
8 RURAL MISSOURI | MAY 2022
DirecTV. In the new millennium, United Services began
offering satellite broadband and later wireless broadband
services. When a 2010 survey found 89% of members in
the King City area did not have access to minimal service
- then considered 5 Mbps download by 1 Mbps upload
speeds - the board knew something had to be done. The
co-op began preparing infrastructure after being awarded
$21 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment
Act. The fi rst customers came online in 2013, and as
United Fiber connected homes and businesses along the
way, the growth was exponential.
" You try to emulate the co-op values, because even
though it's a for-profi t, competitive business, it all comes
back to United Electric, " says Darren Farnan, chief operating
offi cer of United Services. " We treat the customers
on the fi ber side the same way we treat members on the
electric side. Having that local tie and high-quality service
is why we've been successful. "
As a result of that success, profi ts of the subsidiary
have been returned to and benefi ted the members of
United Electric - whether or not they're fi ber subscribers.
In less than a decade, the electric co-op that was once
on uneven fi nancial footing has reinvested in upgrading
equipment. Jim estimates fi ber profi ts have amounted
to an average of $1,300 returned to each United Electric
member over the past fi ve years, either in the form of patronage
capital or rate rebates.
" It's enabled us to do so many things as a co-op. It
allowed us to do bill rebates for members during those
months when a lot of businesses were shut down. The last
half of last year we cut the price of power by 10%, " Jim
says. " They are two businesses that intertwine very well
with each other, and it all fi ts our mission. "
As the network expands, United Fiber has helped some
members of Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative who are now
benefi ting from having a cooperative option for reliable,
high-speed internet.
" We're happy to have United Fiber providing broadband
services to portions of our service territory, " says PlatteClay
CEO and General Manager David Deihl. " This
relationship allows some of our members to be served
with a new internet option without all of Platte-Clay's
membership taking on the fi nancial and regulatory risks

Rural Missouri - May 2022

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - May 2022

Contents
Rural Missouri - May 2022 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - May 2022 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - May 2022 - Contents
Rural Missouri - May 2022 - 4
Rural Missouri - May 2022 - 5
Rural Missouri - May 2022 - 6
Rural Missouri - May 2022 - 7
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Rural Missouri - May 2022 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - May 2022 - Cover4
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