Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corp. says it has installed high-speed internet at a faster pace than projected, provided service to more than 2,000 customers and plans to complete coverage of Lawrence County by the end of the year.
Company spokesman Michael Cornelison said FlashFiber has completed the western portion of its construction plan in Lawrence County and after the final installation in the county's north and east, work will move into Morgan County.
“All of Lawrence County should have access within the next few months,” he said. “Presently, we have 2,014 active subscribers with more receiving service every day. We have the fiber passing more than 13,000 homes. People are signing up for installation every day. We're installing about 120 houses a week. We're on pace to have more than 10,000 subscribers in the next two years."
The company is aiming for about 22,000 total subscribers and says it could take several years to obtain that goal. Cornelison said about 17,000 subscribers is the company’s break-even point.
“We’re ahead of where we projected to be at this point,” he said. Supply chain issues involving a shortage of hardware and utility poles weren’t anticipated but Joe Wheeler EMC has overcome those, he said.
He said about 1,300 miles of fiber-optic cable for the service have been hung. “That’s about half of the total project,” he said.
Cornelison said the company has three rings of substations that will power the operations, a central, east and west. He said the central ring includes the Trinity area where Joe Wheeler EMC is based and into both counties. The east ring includes areas east and south of Decatur such as Lacey’s Spring, Eva and Hartselle. The west ring goes throughout Lawrence County, Moulton, Town Creek and Mount Hope.
“The fiber ring around the system is expected to be complete at the end of the summer,” he said.
Cornelison said the ring will provide reliability and redundancy to customers’ homes and businesses. “If there is ever a fiber cut or that goes out, the ring setup allows service to be routed back around to the customers without a delay,” he said.
Installation of modems, routers and Amazon Firesticks into subscribers’ homes is going as quickly as possible, said George Kitchens, CEO and president of Joe Wheeler EMC and FlashFiber.
“We are working as quickly as we can to keep up with the high demand. I am happy to say that we have just recently added a sixth installer that will help FlashFiber reduce the wait time we have between sign-up and having active service at your home,” Kitchens said.
Cornelison said potential subscribers are asked to visit JWFlash.com to sign up for an installation appointment. Because of the demand, it could be the end of October before customers signing up this week will have service, according to the website.
Currently, FlashFiber is active in Trinity, Caddo, Moulton, Town Creek, Mount Hope, Wolf Springs, Bankhead National Forest, Wren and parts of Hillsboro and Decatur, the company said.
“We will soon be moving our focus to Priceville, Somerville and the rest of Morgan County in coming months,” Kitchens said.
Linda Wilson and her family, who live in a rural area between Decatur and Trinity, received the high-speed service in late 2021.
“Where we live we couldn’t get Spectrum, so we had AT&T DSL, which is almost obsolete now, and DishNet TV,” she said. “We got hooked up (with FlashFiber) late last year and it’s been wonderful and so fast. It provides strong television internet. We’re streaming movies and they never buffer. It’s been a money saver, too. We got rid of our DSL and satellite TV. We’ve never had a problem. And if we do we know we’ll be talking to somebody in Trinity, not Trinidad.”
At the service launch announcement in 2020, Kitchens said the company’s startup cost would be $95 million. The company was awarded $170,000 in federal funds, to be paid out over 10 years, through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to help pay for the implementation of the service, Cornelison said.
JWEMC is offering residents 300 megabytes per second with no data caps at a monthly rate of $59.95 plus tax.
One gigabit per second internet is $79.95 a month, and 2 gigabit per second is $99.95, the company said.
A Decatur Utilities spokesman said a proposal to offer its customers a similar service remains in the discussion stage.
“We’re in the very early stages. We’re soliciting bids for a feasibility study,” said spokesman Joe Holmes.