The convergence between the growing demand for high-speed internet and the lack of infrastructure of traditional telecommunications companies to have greater broadband coverage opens a new niche business opportunity for utilities.
The internet is the world’s most used communication tool. The nature of the service has changed from a luxury for households and businesses to a basic need. However, the capacity of service providers to effectively handle the demand has proven insufficient, which opens a great opportunity for utilities that seek to innovate and expand their commercial offerings.
In fact, many electric cooperatives in the United States are starting to offer broadband in unserved or under-served areas, filling a gap in the market left by major telecommunication companies. According to a study led by America’s Electric Cooperatives, there are more than 900 rural electric cooperatives in America and they provide electricity to about 12% of the U.S. population with a total service area comprising nearly half the country. Around 50 rural electric co-ops have already embarked on fiber optic projects to increase internet access for their members. In most cases, they are providing services that greatly exceed the minimum broadband speeds of 4/1 Mbps or 10/1 Mbps offered by the incumbent telecommunications carriers. Furthermore, these initiatives typically offer a level of service comparable to that of urban Americans at affordable prices.
To discuss this topic, Colman Keane, Broadband Executive Director for The City of Fort Collins, a utility that recently launched its broadband offering, and Hernando Parrott, President of Open International, a software provider for utility and telecommunications companies, conducted the webinar “Delivering traditional and nontraditional utilities with a CIS Cloud Solution” during the TMG Virtual Utility Forum held on October 6th.
During the session, the panelists shared with the audience their thoughts on the decision of the City of Fort Collins, located in Colorado – the United States, to expand their portfolio as a utility company to launch a new full-service model that provides internet, video, and telephony (Triple-Play) services to residential and commercial customers, and the implications that such an initiative had for the company.
Colman Keane discussed the most relevant aspects of Fort Collins’ technology renewal project, which involved replacing their billing system with a solution that not only manages the services already provided but also enables adding broadband services to their portfolio. Vital to this was the contribution of a specialized software provider such as Open International and its holistic, cloud-architecture solution, Open Smartflex.
“What we really wanted was a single system that can handle all five utilities in the billing solution. We selected Open International as our partner, and we are moving forward in getting the Open Smartflex system deployed”, said the Fort Collins executive.
Undertaking a project of this magnitude requires a robust and flexible software solution that supports every aspect of the service provider operation, said Hernando Parrot. He added:
“We are aware of the need for utilities to expand their service portfolio and have specialized and comprehensive software solutions. At Open, we respond to that need and provide a solution that is the new generation CIS system providing 4 dimensions: CRM (customer relationship management), MWM (mobile workforce management), OSS (operational side), and MDM (meter data management).
To conclude, Colman Keane highlighted the importance of having the right technology to successfully undertake an initiative of this kind and materialize the market opportunity it represents for a company like Fort Collins.
“Having a system that was highly configurable and easy was very important to us and that is why we believe Open Smartflex is the right tool for us. We want to grow our products and services to our customers and have the flexibility to meet that need in a cost-effective manner. Open Smartflex has the ability to do that and to grow with us”.