Power (and telecom) to the people
For many across this country, power to the people has meant the provision of public power. In fact, there are over 2,000 public power systems in operation today. Because some of these are currently expanding, modifying or upgrading their infrastructures to provide telecommunications services, and many more are taking a hard look at such developments, one day soon, public telecommunications in some form may be as commonplace as public power.
The reasons for the current high level of interest in public telecommunications are myriad. To begin with, there has been an increasing requirement to develop better internal communications networks for applications such as customer service operations, automated meter reading and SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition).
As internal communications are developed that require a fair amount of telecommunications infrastructure, it is then natural to look at providing services ancillary to the provision of power, such as load management systems, especially for large industrial clients. Such systems also help facilitate the development of time-of-day or "real-time" pricing structures, reducing the customer's cost because pricing can reflect more efficiently distributed demand.
Once the infrastructure is in place, it makes sense to pursue other types of telecom applications that are usually in high demand by large organizations. This includes everything from the lease of dark fiber to the provision of high-speed voice, data and video communications. For example, large power customers, such as manufacturers, hospitals and universities, may have both campus and off-site connectivity requirements that can be easily handled with the addition of fiber along power routes. This type of targeted investment makes inherent sense for the public owners of the system because it has limited risk, and it can work in tandem with applications ancillary to the core power business. Certainly from a cost and diversity of service point-of-view, it has equally significant benefits for the business and institutional community.
This is especially true in smaller jurisdictions where the availability of advanced services or a choice of competing providers may be minimal. Lusk, Wyo., for example, decided that public power system provision of a fiber infrastructure was its best option to ensure that advanced services would be available to its business, institutional and residential community. Recently, it has activated a fiber network ultimately designed to serve all 1,000 electric customers. At this point, the network already provides data communications connectivity for the public schools, and municipal energy load control for a variety of facilities and equipment, including street lights and water pumping sites. Lusk's next step is to begin residential service trials.
When you consider that advanced telecommunications infrastructure allows telecom-intensive services such as telemarketing and customer service operations to be performed from just about anywhere, these types of fiber deployments can be boons to the economic development of smaller communities. Because there is already a natural synergy between the local government and the publicly-owned utility, communities like Lusk demonstrate that there are significant opportunities for the enhancement of government services. Fiber infrastructure deployed along power routes can facilitate the development of Sonet applications and broadband Ethernets for government facilities, distance learning and electronic classroom services for schools, and outlets for government outreach communications in malls and libraries.Partnerships with telecom providers
A public power provider which has proceeded this far in the development of telecom networks may next look at the feasibility of partnerships to provide or assist in providing a wide range of telecommunications services. This could include agreements with existing or new telecom providers for the lease of excess conduit capacity, the lease of dark or activated fiber or reciprocal facilities use. There are several advantages to these types of partnerships, including provision of a greater diversity of advanced telecom services and less disturbance to the public right-of-way related to system construction.
In conjunction with, or as an alternative to, such partnerships, the public power provider can also become a full service telecom provider. Only a few public power systems have embarked on this course, but those that have are passionate about the current results and the future potential of their telecommunications infrastructure. For example, the Glasgow, Ky. Electric Plant Board believes strongly that its infrastructure provides both a platform for cost-effective and advanced public telecommunications and, in partnership with private providers, a platform for commercial service development. Consistent with this focus, the Board provides such services as cable television, telephony and data communications to the business and residential community, traffic signal control for the municipality and, in concert with a commercial provider, high-speed Internet access.
Whatever the right answer is for any particular public power community, it's clear that every such community will benefit from some level of public telecom infrastructure development. In those communities, I think you will see the rallying cry, "Telecommunications to the People" continue to grow. And I say, "Right on!"
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