Arkansas is the only place in the country where diamonds are actively mined but the state is planning to add to its collection of gems with a diamond network.
“We’ve joined with 13 other electrical cooperatives with a vision of making Arkansas the most significantly connected state in the country,” said Steven Bandy, General Manager, OzarksGo. “With a lot of rural areas across the state, there’s not a lot of capability for connectivity to a middle mile network. Our intent is to build that network.”
Diamond State Networks (DSN) is a wholesale broadband provider uniting Arkansas’ 14 co-op-run fiber optic networks. With nearly $2 billion dollars invested to date by the co-ops involved, DSN will deploy approximately 50,000 miles of fiber across the state, passing over 490,000 homes and 1.25 million residents. DSN will be able to deliver fiber broadband access to nearly 40% of the state’s population, covering 64% of Arkansas’ landmass including extensions to unserved communities by tapping into the middle mile network.
“Most of the population in the larger towns already have broadband, so we’re reaching everyone else,” Bandy said. “We’re going to go through 71 of the 75 counties in the state.”
Built using Ciena equipment, DSN will have four routing and content peering sites within the state, reducing latency and out-of-state traffic. “We’re trying to bring more of the peering into the state, bring economic development to the state,” said Bandy. “[OzarksGo] has peering agreements with Netflix and Google and we’re working with Amazon Prime. Right now, that content alone being here is cutting down about 40 to 45 percent of our out-of-state traffic.”
OzarksGo, a telecommunications subsidiary of Ozarks Electric Cooperative, celebrated the completion of its initial fiber network in November 2021. It provides all-fiber gigabit internet, television, and telephone services to Northwest Arkansas and Northeast Oklahoma, as well as the infrastructure for smart grid services implemented by its parent company.
Today, OzarksGo delivers service to 33,800 subscribers and continues to get new customers at a rate of 600 subscribers per month. It has an average take rate of 40%, with subscriptions of 37% in competitive markets and 47% in non-competitive areas.
The biggest challenge for Bandy has been rural community expectations for getting broadband. “You can’t go into a restaurant, you can’t go to church, you can’t go somewhere where someone’s asking you about when you’re going to be there,” Bandy said. “In those areas we’re not yet in, there are a lot of people that reach out and want to figure out how to get us there.”
To ensure network sustainability, OzarksGo had to build the network “like a spiderweb,” Bandy said, starting inward in urban areas and moving outward. “You can’t build it to your furthest point first and come inward,” he continued. “On top of that we were the first co-op in Arkansas to build a fiber network and we wanted to make sure it was sustainable, so if we had to pull out, it would be self-supporting.”
Listen to the latest Fiber for Breakfast podcast with Steven Bandy to learn more about Diamond State Networks and OzarksGo.