Founded in 1936, the Cullman Electric Cooperative is located in Cullman, Alabama, and was one of the first electric cooperatives to be formed in the state. The cooperative has 44,000 members in Cullman, Winston, Morgan and Lawrence counties.
Wanting to further enhance the quality of service to its members, they decided to build a fiber ring around their service area. This would connect their substations and office to create a smart grid that would offer better reliability. This would mean faster power restoration, automation capabilities, fewer outages and the ability to perform some remote trouble-shooting functions.
As a result of the fiber ring project, they also decided to launch internet service to provide residents and businesses in the build zone with high-speed fiber optic internet service. Sprout Fiber Internet was formed as a subsidiary company owned by the cooperative.
It Takes Time
The first phase of the project started in the summer of 2020 with the plan to add additional phases that would eventually connect every Cullman Electric member.
As most cooperatives find out, building a fiber network takes time. And there are always challenges. Early into the build, Cullman started facing issues with availability and fulfillment with the supply chain management company that was initially providing materials on the project. That was when the cooperative reached out and started building a relationship with the team from Wesco | Anixter. Having a similar project already in the works nearby and other deployments across the country meant the Wesco | Anixter team already had a proven track record of successful fiber deployment projects.
In the summer of 2021, the cooperative decided to have Wesco | Anixter take over the supply chain management of their project and become the full turnkey products, services and solutions provider for the project.
Having leased a satellite warehouse location from the cooperative, the Wesco | Anixter team quickly streamlined it and made it fully operational by adding material handling equipment, racking, inventory management equipment and the manpower to run it.
Mark Freeman, Cullman Electric Cooperative’s Manager of Network Operations, said, “Cullman Electric Cooperative has worked with the Wesco | Anixter team for years on our electrical operations. We knew their people and the quality of service they could provide. There is a huge learning curve for any cooperative getting into the fiber business. Having a trusted partner like Wesco | Anixter that can manage the material acquisition and warehousing gives our team the confidence to focus on other critical issues because they know the materials required to build the fiber network will be there when we need them.”
Utilizing Wesco | Anixter’s long-standing relationships with industry suppliers meant that the team could take advantage of their buying power to ensure all the needed fiber-build products were in stock and ready when Cullman needed them. This helped keep the cooperative’s deployment on track and avoided costly delays.
Another big factor in the overall success that Wesco | Anixter continues to demonstrate with these types of projects is their internal Wesco Broadband Support Center℠ (BSC). The BSC is a proven asset to any of these fiber deployments and brings world-class project management, procurement and expediting experience and knowledge to the table.
As more and more members are directly connected, they will begin to experience the difference that high-quality, high-speed broadband can make in their everyday lives. Having a robust broadband connection is a game changer to residents and businesses in rural Alabama. It will bring jobs and help improve the overall quality of life in many areas from healthcare and public safety to education. When potential large-scale employers are evaluating sites, internet access is always near the top of their list of needs.
Cullman is number one in the state in poultry production. Because poultry farms are typically located in remote areas and off the grid, they usually lack internet. Cullman’s poultry industry was already getting electricity from the cooperative. With Sprout Fiber being deployed, they will have access to broadband internet to implement next-generation tools to improve poultry production. This exemplifies how the Internet of Things (IoT) is making a difference to businesses in rural communities.
“Having an already established multi-year relationship with Cullman laid the foundation for Wesco | Anixter to pivot to the project management services and logistical turnkey services that are needed to assist Cullman in the launching of their fiber-optic network,” stated Steve Dean, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Wesco | Anixter Utility. “We strive to be a seamless extension of the co-op’s operation, and we are proud of what our teams have accomplished together to bring broadband to Cullman’s service area.”
Deploying a rural broadband network doesn’t have to be challenging. Utilizing Wesco | Anixter’s proven track record of experience and expertise in fiber deployment projects guarantees that the products, services and solutions for a successful and future-ready network are already in place.