Great Plains accelerates fiber expansion in Nebraska, Indiana

Great Plains Communications is undertaking significant network rollouts across the Midwest, announcing earlier this month it will build fiber in 16 new urban and rural communities in Nebraska.

CEO Todd Foje said these markets – the complete list of which can be found here – are all areas where Great Plains will upgrade its broadband services with fiber, with construction slated to start by late fall 2023.

Some of the expansion markets are in the Omaha metro area, such as Gretna, La Vista, Papillion and Ralston, while others are considered “smaller, more rural communities,” Foje told Fierce.

“Nebraska would be our largest area of focus,” he said, along with southeast Indiana. Last week, Great Plains announced fiber expansion plans in the markets of Aurora and Vevay, Indiana.

Great Plains’ total subscriber count is currently “in the mid 50,000 range,” with Foje noting the subscriber base is “predominantly fiber.” He said Great Plains was actually one of the first companies in Nebraska to put fiber to work, “and we first did that in 1984.”

All told, Great Plains boasts more than 18,000 miles of fiber reaching 13 states. In the past few years it acquired some providers to boost its footprint, like USA Communications in 2021 and Wood River Network in January 2022.

Foje said Great Plains is using both public and private funding to support its buildouts. Its private equity partner is Grain Management, a firm that’s invested in a range of telecom companies, the most recent one being Quintillion.

“They have a lot of expertise and a lot of experience, they’ve been able to share that experience with us,” he said, noting Grain’s resources and financial knowledge has helped Great Plains created more jobs, for instance.

As for public funds, the operator is using both state and federal dollars. Its Indiana expansion is supported by a grant from the state’s Next Level Connections (NLC) program.

Foje said Great Plains “certainly would love” to tap into Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) funding, but it’s waiting to see “how the details of that program develop.”

“We’re in the process of creating some very preliminary engineering plans in the high-cost rural parts that would be eligible for those funds,” he said, but thus far Great Plains hasn’t identified exactly which locations would be included in a BEAD application.

Aside from funding, Great Plains is focused on making sure it has enough supplies for builds, “whether it’s the cable itself or all the things that go into making it work” as well as “just ensuring that we have the people that we need, the contractors to be successful.”

“We think that we’ve been able to manage through what the industry was calling supply chain issues in the last year or two,” Foje said, adding the operator has received support from the major vendors like CommScope, Corning, STL and Ciena.

In May, Great Plains deployed Ciena’s Coherent Routing solution to boost network capacity across its footprint, enabling 400G services for large cloud and data center operators.

Asked if Great Plains is undertaking any DOCSIS upgrades, Foje said the operator’s footprint is on DOCSIS 3.1 “for the most part.” Over time, it’ll be “swapping out a lot of our cable footprint with fiber,” but there may be some “incremental [cable] upgrades” along the way.