When we first announced our broadband project in February 2018, the reaction from our membership was a mixture of excitement and disappointment. Many were excited for a better internet option, but were discouraged with our eight–year timeline. So, we began looking for ways to accelerate our performance.
The first solution was announced earlier this year – our acquisition of Wintek Corporation. As we announced at our Annual Meeting in July, Wintek’s skilled staff has shortened our original timeline by two years; and, we’re now nine months into that. The second avenue we've taken is to seek available grant funding.
Any grant funding we receive allows us to contract additional fiber construction crews and build the network faster than originally planned. Each time we open a new build area, it’s about a six–month process from start to finish.
In August, we received what is hopefully our first grant from Indiana’s Next Level Connections program. The $444,558 grant will serve 27 households and three businesses in northwestern Tippecanoe County. Tipmont REMC will contribute $118,000 for a total project cost of $562,000.
Tipmont also applied for funding in southern Tippecanoe and Montgomery counties, but another provider challenged them. The Next Level Communication grants stipulate that applications may be challenged if: “existing service is available at or above actual 10/1 speeds and be generally available to all residential customers in the defined area, or verify that the construction is planned or already underway with service becoming available before July 2021.”
The good news is that of the $100 million that the state has allocated for grant funding, only $22.1 million was awarded in the first cycle. We expect the next round of funding to be announced in early 2020. We’re also actively exploring federal funding sources and will share more information as we move through the process.
I’m also pleased to share that the response rate thus far is ahead of our projections. We’re averaging about 36 installations per week and we should connect our 500th customer at or around October 1, 2019. Our service has been very well received by our initial customers and we’re building as quickly as we can to make broadband available to the entire Tipmont membership.