On June 3, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) approved a request by Midwest Energy Cooperative to be designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC). This affords Midwest’s fiber division, Midwest Connections, access to federal sources of capital designed to support their rural southwest Michigan utility communications and data and voice project.

In March 2015, Midwest was awarded $211,532 through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Rural Broadband Experiment program. Not only does Midwest’s ETC clear the way for receipt of these funds in high-cost support areas, it makes the company eligible to compete for FCC Connect America Funds (CAF). CAF is a multi-billion dollar fund designed to accelerate broadband build-out to about 23 million Americans who lack access to infrastructure capable of providing download speeds of 10 megabits-per-second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 1 Mbps.

“Southwest Michigan’s rural broadband revolution continues to grow, with 525 customers now actively using the fiber service and over 1,800 ‘in the crowd’ and assigned to specific construction zones on TeamFiber.com,” explains Dave Allen, Midwest’s vice president of regulatory compliance and community development. “Midwest is using a very grassroots approach to this project, as members are encouraged to help build their own zones to reach designated goals.” Future construction will be determined largely by zone growth.

“Getting the ETC designation was a critical step in our process, but more importantly another affirmation that electric co-ops have the ability, wherewithal and commitment to bridge the communication divide and deliver viable solutions to the rural space,” Allen said.