Claude's Blog: WISPs and Electric Coops - Strong Community Broadband Partners

Sometimes it takes a little heartland ingenuity to tackle the digital divide. That innovative thinking is on full display about an hour outside of downtown Oklahoma City in Stillwater, Oklahoma, home of a couple of local businesses that are deploying robust infrastructure to ensure that rural Americans have service on par with their urban counterparts.

ProValue.net is a WISP based in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and has been giving its residents access to high-quality connectivity for decades. “We were on the front lines of closing the digital divide in the early 1990s when we started our dial-up business,” said Drew Beverage, VP of Business Development and Operations, at ProValue, “and we have been laser-focused on providing rural Oklahomans the best internet access possible since then.”

That is part of the reason why they were attractive connectivity partners for Central Electric Cooperative. “We’ve been providing quality electric service to our members since 1938,” said Hunter Robinson, CEO of Central Electric, “understanding the importance of providing rural areas options for connectivity led us down the path to look for a partner that upholds the same member-first values that we hold true to as a cooperative.  We quickly identified ProValue as a great partner for Central as they held the same member-first values we did.”

ProValue and Central have an innovative infrastructure-sharing partnership, cross-marketing, and billing arrangement that allows Central’s members to receive internet access from ProValue and have both services on the same bill. “We have trained staff that work directly with ProValue to more quickly determine where an optimum communication point should be installed that not only provides a connection to our downline devices, but also establish points of communications for the member,” Hunter stated.

“And we provide Central with test gear and cross-train so that we get as much benefit from each other as possible,” Beverage added, “and we match coverage areas with Central so that every member of theirs who wants high-speed internet will be able to get it.”

When looking towards the future, both see this arrangement as a template for stronger coordination between WISPs and electric cooperatives going forward. “There is a strong match here between the community-based values of WISPs and electric cooperatives,” said Drew, “we both have existing infrastructure, serve the same customers, and want our rural communities to flourish.”