Smithville, Indiana’s largest privately-held telecom, and the Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC (UDWI) announced a unique limited partnership that is expected to accelerate high-speed fiber construction in a cost-effective manner. The partnership is expected to mutually benefit customers and communities in their overlapping service areas, according to Darby A. McCarty, Chairman and CEO of Smithville, and Doug Childs, UDWI CEO.
The two companies will first leverage this new partnership to bring high-speed fiber-optic connectivity to more than 800 homes in the rural area east of Stanford in Monroe County. The two-year project will begin its initial phase in early 2021 and focus on building residential fiber connectivity to about 280 homes. Additional areas of the project are expected to start construction later in 2021. The companies set a schedule that forecasts the completion of the full project of more than 800 homes by the end of 2022.
“Smithville currently has fiber and legacy service customers in Greene and Monroe Counties and other areas served by UDWI, so combining strategic resources in a limited partnership will bring benefits to present and future customers and communities served by both,” said Ms. McCarty. “Many of these areas have high construction costs, so this partnership will help lower costs and accelerate fiber access without impacting either of our customer bases.”
According to Childs, “This approach represents a best-of-all-worlds solution for our members and organization, leveraging UDWI’s existing infrastructure and Smithville’s telecommunications expertise to bring our members the connectivity that they want and need at the lowest possible cost.
“This strategic partnership allows UDWI to continue our present focus on both capital improvements and increased vegetation management to improve service reliability for our members,” said Childs. “We look forward to getting this first project underway.”
According to UDWI Board Director Sophie Haywood, the partnership offers great benefits to the members and has full board support. “Our board of directors is excited about the partnership and the opportunity to bring better connectivity to our members. It’s something they have asked for, which we could not have done economically on our own. Through this partnership, we are helping find new ways to address the needs of our members.”
Smithville’s engineering teams are completing plans for the initial Monroe County project area, which will include using some aerial infrastructure assets owned by UDWI. Joint planning will continue throughout the two-year timeframe as new construction areas are added within the initial Monroe County project.
The organizations are presently considering additional joint projects that utilize UDWI’s electric infrastructure and Smithville’s telecommunications expertise to construct high-speed fiber infrastructure in places where their service areas overlap, according to Cullen McCarty, executive vice president of Smithville. “This initial project will serve as the foundation for additional projects in the future,” he added. “The Monroe County project is just the beginning.”
Smithville and UDWI already both provide service in areas near the $100 million WestGate@Crane Technology Park and other portions of south-central Indiana, where additional joint projects may also materialize. However, the companies will complete their initial joint project before actively pursuing additional opportunities, McCarty explained.
“Smithville is committed to doing what it takes to continue to advance high-speed fiber connectivity in Indiana, especially in rural areas,” said Darby McCarty. “We are an active member of UDWI REMC, so we hold a positive vested interest in supporting current UDWI capital improvement projects and other customer initiatives,” she added.
According to Smithville President Paul Quick, the need for connectivity has never been more evident, and finding ways to work together is the best way to address that need. “This type of innovative cooperation is exciting because of the new opportunities it creates to speed up fiber development and bring high-speed service to hard-to-reach rural areas that truly need it,” said Quick. “The real winners here are the customers of Smithville and UDWI.”