Connect2First claims 40 to 60% take rates for Arkansas fiber build

Connect2First has constructed 4,371 miles of fiber network across 18 Arkansas counties, and the internet service provider still has over 600 miles to go.

In "multiple areas" where service is already available, Connect2First is seeing take rates between 40 to 60%, according to Sales and Marketing Director Candace Looper. “We're expecting to have, once our services are completely built out, 30,000 active customers,” she told Fierce Telecom.

Connect2First is a wholly owned subsidiary of First Electric cooperative that provides fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) internet and home phone service to the coop’s members. Looper noted that once completed, the entire network build will have taken a total investment of around $240 million, including funds from several government programs.

The fiber provider expects to have 72,000 homes passed by the end of 2024, with service tiers up to 2.5 gig available for residents and businesses.

“The need for Connect2First absolutely came about because our membership needed to have fiber,” said Looper. “We have a lot of places in the rural areas of Arkansas that have very little to no connectivity at this time.”

Some of the denser areas within First Electric’s footprint do have other types of connectivity, like cable internet and phone, but those options aren’t providing the service at “a fiber-to-the-home level, or with symmetrical speeds,” added Looper.

To build its fiber network, Connect2First received $17.8 million from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. It also received Arkansas’ Rural Connect Grant funds in two counties that together, totaled over $15 million.

Meanwhile, Connect2First's consulting team is reviewing “any opportunities” to tap into the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program for areas that are considered unserved or underserved in the region.

The company is working with multiple counties in Arkansas through their broadband committees to help identify which areas are underserved or unserved, which Looper said could help support the state in determining where to allocate additional funds. “We're going after any opportunity with grant money, so we can offset the cost for our construction build,” she added.

While First Electric has matched some of the government funding in part, Looper said the coop’s total investment amount is yet to be determined based on additional grant opportunities that may be available.

Connect2First is also venturing to some areas outside of the coop’s membership. It recently partnered with the City of Cabot to provide connectivity, which is outside of the First Electric membership base. This was made possible when Cabot passed a bond issue to build its own FTTH infrastructure, and named Connected2First as the provider of choice build and operate that network.

Such opportunities with local communities are “great ways that [Connect2First] can expand,” said Looper.