Cullman EC launches Sprout Fiber Internet

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Cullman Electric Cooperative CEO Tim Culpepper at June’s Sprout Fiber Internet announcement (Nick Griffin/The Cullman Tribune)

Updated 6-18-20 at 3:38 p.m.

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman Electric Cooperative on Thursday announced big news for its customers: the launch of Sprout Fiber Internet. The need for internet access in rural areas of Cullman County has been a pressing issue, one that has been championed by Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview and other members of Cullman County’s legislative delegation, all of whom were on-hand to celebrate the news Thursday morning.

Last year, Shedd sponsored House Bill 400, which, according to him, “authorizes electricity providers to use their existing and future power lines, rights-of-way and infrastructure to partner with companies to provide or expand broadband/telecommunications services or actually be in the business themselves.” The Broadband Using Electric Easements Accessibility Act was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey in 2019.

Shedd is excited about Thursday morning’s announcement.

“It’s a game changer for our area! Today’s announcement is the beginning of eventually everyone having access to high speed internet. It won’t happen overnight, but this the quickest way to get it to everyone, and in fact the only way a lot of people in rural areas can get high speed internet,” he said. “I appreciate Tim Culpepper and his team and Cullman Electric’s board having the vision and courage to invest in our area’s future. When rural Alabama has high-speed internet, rural Alabama can have business and commerce!”

Senator Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman took a few moments to speak at Thursday’s presentation, crediting the people within the co-op for helping to make this happen.

“People always ask me what makes the north-central region of Alabama special and there’s a lot of answers there, but when it really filters through the fire and comes out the other side the answer is the people. This project is a perfect example of that,” Gudger said. “The people just like Tim Culpepper, the board of directors, the administration staff and everyone that works here at the co-op have been able to have a vision of what they wanted and how they could help people throughout this region. By doing that, they’re making a difference and making it better for everyone that lives in this community.”

Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle was in attendance as well and used most of his time at the podium to recognize Shedd for the time and effort he has put into championing rural broadband access.

“I don’t know Rep. Shedd’s exact age,” Stadthagen joked, “but I will tell you this, he fought for rural Alabama for 3.5 hours in a row (on the House floor), and I’m not saying just standing there, people were coming after him hard. So, I learned when you believe in something, you go after it and stand firm for as long as it takes. So, thank you Rep. Shedd for what you’ve done and thank you to Cullman County. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

Cullman Electric Cooperative CEO Tim Culpepper said as Sprout Fiber Internet grows, it will help close the digital divide that prevents rural communities from reaching their full potential.

“Cullman Electric Cooperative has always been focused on serving our members, and Sprout Fiber Internet will be a key factor in helping the people, the businesses and the communities we serve grow now and into the future,” Culpepper said.

The co-op has started building a fiber network that will connect all of its substations and offices to further enhance the quality of its electrical service. In the process, Sprout Fiber Internet will make gigabit speed internet access available to more than 12,000 co-op members.

Construction on phase 1 started this month and should be complete in 12 to 18 months. If the first phase is successful, future phases will be designed and built with the ultimate goal of making Sprout Fiber Internet available to every co-op member.

“This is an incredible opportunity for Cullman Electric and our members,” Culpepper said. “With a fiber connection in place, we will improve even further on the quality electric service our members have already come to expect. It will cut down outage response times significantly and lay the foundation for us to take advantage of cutting-edge technology in the future.”

Sprout Fiber Internet will offer Cullman Electric members upload and download speed starting at 300 Mbps and going as high as a gigabit per second. Cooperative members are encouraged to take an online speed test at www.speedtest.net to check their current internet speed and learn how much of a difference Sprout Fiber Internet can make for their home or business.

“Sprout Fiber is an important project, and all of us on the board are very excited to see it come to fruition,” said Robert Tidwell, chairperson of the co-op’s board of trustees.

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama could not be at Thursday’s presentation in person, but did send a video message: “Good morning everybody. To all the folks at Cullman Electric Co-op I just want to say congratulations on a great accomplishment in implementing Phase 1 of your fiber project. This is a great step forward for rural broadband in Alabama and in our area. I’m so glad we have local organizations working to make broadband a reality, not only for our area but for the state.

“As we all know we’ve really come to know two different Americas. There is the America that has broadband access, and those that do not, and really this is unacceptable. Just because you live in a rural area doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have access to broadband. So we want to make sure we have access to high quality, high speed broadband all across America in big cities and large.

“This has been one of my top priorities that I’ve worked on in the last few years in Congress, and it’s encouraging to know that people are working on this at the local level, the state level and certainly at the federal level. And that is why this Phase 1 project is so important to moving rural Alabama forward.

“So again, thanks for all that you do, keep up the good work, and I look forward to working with you to make broadband available throughout the state.”

Listed below are some frequently asked questions that can also be found at www.cullmanec.com/sprout.

What is Sprout?

Sprout Fiber Internet is the name of Cullman Electric Cooperative’s high-speed fiber internet service.

Why are we doing this?

By connecting our substations and office with fiber optic cable, we will create a smarter grid that will provide us with more automation capabilities, ultimately increasing the reliability of our electric service to members. This endeavor also falls in line with our mission to power communities and empower members. High-speed internet today is the electricity of the 1930s and 1940s.  In 1930, fewer than 10% of farms had access to electricity. Much like our cooperative did with electricity more than 80 years ago, we’re going to provide reliable, affordable broadband to our members.

What is the project?

The project is an effort to improve the co-op’s electric system, and at the same time provide residents and businesses in Cullman Electric’s service territory with lightning-fast fiber optic internet service.

Why do I want fiber?

Fiber is the fastest and most reliable internet connection available. Speeds of up to 1 gig are possible (that’s 1,000 Mbps, or megabits per second), with enough bandwidth to power your whole business or household. Internet over fiber helps businesses operate efficiently and competitively. It powers advances in health care and education. It even enhances entertainment, with ultrafast video streaming (no buffering) and gaming (no lag).

How do I find out if fiber is coming to my area?

Members will be able to go online at www.cullmanec.com/sprout and type in your service address to see if your location is included in the first phase.

What internet speeds will be offered?

We will offer two basic Wi-Fi packages with upload and download speeds of 300 Mbps for $59.99 and upload and download speeds of 1 Gbps for $79.99. For an additional $10 per month we will offer a Whole Home Wi-Fi feature that will ensure your entire home is covered.

From whom will I actually be buying internet service?

Sprout Fiber Internet is a service provided by Cooperative Connections, a subsidiary company which is owned by your trusted power provider, Cullman Electric Cooperative.

How soon will this happen?

Our plan is to do the project in phases. Construction on Phase 1 started June 1, 2020 and is scheduled to take 12 to 18 months to complete. The first service areas are scheduled for connection in October 2020, with additional areas coming online as Phase 1 progresses. If the first phase is successful, we will proceed with additional phases with the ultimate goal of making Sprout Fiber Internet available to every Cullman Electric member.

I can’t wait! What do I do?

Visit www.cullmanec.com/sprout to register so we can keep you informed about the project’s progress and know that you want blazing-fast internet from Sprout. Be sure to tell your friends! Help us help others! Together we can grow this into something special.

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Nick Griffin

nick@cullmantribune.com