LREC fiber optic internet moving to more rural areas this year

Apr. 15—Lake Region Electric Cooperative is again expanding its fiber optic network from within its service area, and the company plans to finish its third phase by the end of 2022.

Despite supply-chain shortages, LREC anticipates meeting its goal.

“We are just moving forward, and of course, we have to deal with supply issues like anything else, whether it is hamburger buns or whatever. There is a supply issue, but our project is moving forward,” said Hamid Vahdatipour, CEO of LREC.

The nonprofit is finishing its second phase as it is starting Phase 3. LREC is wrapping up projects in Wagoner, Coweta, and Broken Arrow. Phase 3 will cover rural areas from within Cherokee County, including Briggs, Lowery and Peggs.

Currently, 8,800 customers are subscribed to LREC for fiber optic service, and that number is anticipated to increase as more houses become connected.

“If everything goes as planned, Phase 3 will finish by December. By December, we should have our entire service territory connected. We are looking forward to that,” said Vahdatipour.

LREC sets itself apart from other fiber optic companies because of its nonprofit status. Members of the LREC board found there was a need among its electric customers for high-speed internet. Vahdatipour compared Hulbert’s circumstances from a decade ago to rural areas of the country at the time of the Great Depression.

“Electric companies didn’t want to go to the rural areas in the 1930s; the same is true among broadband today. It is capital-expensive to put the backbone in, and there’s no return on investment. For us, we don’t need a return on investment. We are a nonprofit,” he said.

Amid the pandemic, high-speed internet has become indispensable for many families, including for many students.

“Broadband is important for working from home, business, and learning. Anything we do, we can do it online. From ordering stuff to renewing favorite TV programs, high-speed internet is very much a part of how we live,” Vahdatipour said.

Once Phase 3 is complete, the company will have finished its primary installation projects from within its service area, but as early as next year, Vahdatipour said, LREC will consider projects in Porter, Braggs, Okay, and other small towns that don’t yet have service.

Those that don’t have wifi can enjoy hotspots LREC has set up at Keys High School, Woodall School, and at Norris Park in Tahlequah.

“We have provided free wifi, so folks can go to those parking lots at the park and have access to it,” he said.

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