Big RDOF winner Conexon helps electric co-ops get in the fiber game

Lit fiber
In February of this year, Conexon launched its own internet service provider subsidiary called Connect, which helps cooperative partners build and run fiber networks.(Pixabay)

You may not have heard of Conexon, but the company’s Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium (RECC) was one of the biggest winners in the recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction. In December 2020, it walked away from the proceeding with $1.1 billion to build gigabit broadband to 618,000 locations across 22 states.

The company has certainly been busy in the months since the close of the auction. Conexon has provided consulting services to electric cooperatives interested in launching their own broadband services since it was founded in 2015. But in February of this year, it launched its own internet service provider subsidiary called Connect, which helps cooperative partners build and run fiber networks.

A Conexon representative told Fierce that the cooperatives maintain ownership of the networks but lease them out to Connect, which operates them. All of the networks deployed with partners are fiber-to-the-premise, offering gigabit speeds to every home and business served. The representative added Conexon is committed to working solely with electric cooperatives, stating it believes they “hold the key and capabilities for closing the digital divide.”

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Connect initially partnered with two providers in Georgia, announcing plans to jointly invest $200 million to deploy a 6,890-mile fiber-to-the-home network to provide access to 80,000 homes and businesses. It has since signed additional agreements with co-ops in Georgia and Missouri, pushing its anticipated passings well past 200,000 locations.

Earlier this week, it announced a deal with the Mountain View Electric Association to build a 5,800-mile fiber network to the Colorado cooperative’s more than 51,000 members. It said work on this project is expected to be complete in five to six years, with the first customers coming online in Q2 2022.

Conexon’s representative told Fierce the aforementioned relationships are representative of those it plans to use to fulfill its RDOF obligations, noting “It is our intent to work with the electric cooperatives that serve the areas in which we won funding to build out and serve 100% of their members.”

The projects will be fueled by a combination of RDOF money and “other funding sources which will vary by cooperative,” the representative said. “RDOF is an operating subsidy program, not a construction program. In all cases where we will receive an operating subsidy, we will also use other financial resources.”

Among other RDOF awards, RECC received $83.2 million to serve 25,255 locations in Colorado; $82.6 million to connect 60,184 locations in Georgia; and $88.2 million to build 44,910 locations in Missouri.

The representative said Conexon is actively working to secure additional partnerships and will announce these as they are locked in.