ANGOLA — Steuben County REMC has taken a significant step forward in bringing broadband to rural Steuben County with the purchase of the Steuben County Fiber Network, perhaps better known as iMAN, an REMC news release said.
The REMC’s Board of Directors recently authorized the acquisition of iMAN for $2.8 million, effective January 2021, in an effort to provide fiber optic services to its members. The deal was signed on Oct. 12 and made public in conjunction with the REMC’s annual meeting this week.
The fiber network was the creation of the Steuben County Community Foundation two decades ago.
Over the next 4-5 years, REMC plans to deploy fiber to its home network of customers, the news release said. This will represent a $25 million investment in infrastructure.
The acquisition mirrors the mission of the REMC, delivering a needed utility to rural customers through a member-owned, not-for-profit company.
“The (REMC) board recognizes the importance of internet access, and the impact it has on the quality of life. They also understand the advantages broadband will bring to future growth and economic development to the region,” the news release said.
The decision followed more than 24 months of due diligence, including feasibility studies and market analysis.
This is the first step in the expansion of fiber to the home network that will bring broadband availability to REMC’s membership over the next 4 to 5 years.
Steuben County REMC expects this $25 million investment in infrastructure to be capable of meeting the regions broadband needs into the future. The iMan acquisition will provide a reliable backbone that will bolster the project economics and build-out.
“We have a big job ahead of us, but our members have been here before when we collectively worked together to provide rural Steuben County with electricity at a time when no one else would. Today we find ourselves in a similar circumstance and it is again time to cooperatively light our future with broadband services.” Kevin Keiser, CEO Steuben County REMC. “We have got a lot of work to do. The board has worked very hard on this the last couple years.”
This is the same principle that brought about the creation of iMAN in 2000; investor-owned utilities would probably not take the risk of stringing fiber in a small community, so the Steuben County Community Foundation did through the creation of a new entity that started in the core downtown Angola area.
“I think we’re going to expand on a great idea and make it even better,” Keiser said.
In late 2018, the Community Foundation proclaimed that the original mission of the fiber network had been achieved and began a robust process of determining the next chapter of the network. The proceeds from the sale of iMAN will be permanently endowed in a Community Leadership Fund designed to support innovative ideas and foster development of new cross-sector community initiatives.
“We look forward to creating similar partnerships for our community’s benefit year after year, forever,” said Jennifer Danic, president and CEO of the Community Foundation.
The iMAN network currently serves every resident in our community through educational, governmental, health care and business connections that provide high-speed internet connectivity.
“The Steuben County REMC is committed to honoring the founding spirit and future growth of this community resource. They are dedicated to ensure that current access will not be disrupted, and the networks governance and management will remain local,” added Danic.
Steuben County REMC is an electric distribution cooperative with a not-for-profit business model that provides service to individuals and businesses across rural Steuben, LaGrange and DeKalb counties. Optimizing engineering and deployment, as well as the opportunity to be awarded state and federal grants, the REMC will be able to maintain similar competitive rates, as they do currently.
“If we consider the alternative of doing nothing as the rest of the world passes us by; the cost to our rates, and more importantly, our way of life, will be far greater,” Kaiser said.
Steuben County REMC taking over iMAN, Kaiser said, wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the original foresight of Angola government, Steuben County government, the Community Foundation and many others who made the network a reality.