Many members know the COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges for all of us. None greater than when schools were forced to close and parents had to educate their children at home. Obviously, this proved to be increasingly difficult since high-speed internet is hard to come by for many in our area. All that is changing, however, for many members in the area thanks to the help of Current Inc., of West Plains, MO, Wisper ISP, LLC, of Mascoutah, IL, and LTD Broadband of Albert Lea, MN.

What began as a heating and air, and electrical company, has recently added another division, and list of services to help with the broadband issue. Current Inc., headquartered in West Plains, MO began offering wireless internet service in 2019. Starting with 4 local towers, and growing to what is now 187 local towers with coverage in Howell, Oregon, Shannon, Texas, Douglas, and Ozark counties. Danny Thomas, Owner, said that himself, and most of his staff, live in rural areas with little to no options for good internet. That is what motivated them to grow their business and provide this service. They have grown with a grassroots approach and community support to solve the broadband divide in this area. A “neighbors helping neighbors” program was developed to help connect difficult to reach homes and offers discounts to those helping. With around 1500 households currently served, and service available to about 80% of the Howell-Oregon Electric geographic area, Current intends on staying local to ensure optimum customer service, as they always have. Division Manager and Engineer, Alan Stocki stated, “We have to provide good service; we’re going to see you in the grocery store.” Customer service is the shining light of the business model. Current has partnered with Sho-Me Technologies to provide its network several fiber backbone connections to the Internet. In 2021, they also assembled 2 new full time fiber optic deployment crews, and have begun bringing fiber to the home in Howell and Oregon counties. Current Inc. plans to have fiber available to all households in Howell and Oregon counties by 2027.Current offers speeds on their wireless network up to 40 mbps, and up to 10 gig on fiber. Current has also acquired InTouch Technical Solutions in order to take their services a step further, and handle all things IT inside the premises. This includes computer repair, and installation of mesh wireless systems for complete wireless coverage in the home and to help customers mitigate wireless interference.

Wisper ISP, LLC, based in Mascoutah, IL, is a wireless internet service provider with 200 employees and just under 19,000 subscribers across Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. In 2018, Wisper was the second largest winner of the Federal Communications Commission’s rural broadband auction, Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II). This grant awarded Wisper more than $220 million to provide broadband service to rural areas. Sho-Me Technologies, a subsidiary of Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative, recently entered into an agreement that will assist Wisper in fulfilling their obligation to CAF II and expand internet access to 75% of Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative’s geographic service area by early 2026. In the agreement, Sho-Me Technologies will provide tower space and fiber optic facilities to help expedite the deployment of internet to the Sho-Me Power service areas. In the final four months of 2021, Wisper launched 68 new towers in 40 counties across four states. Those towers serve more than 204,000 households in 63 individual rural and urban communities. Moving forward in 2022, Wisper has a very aggressive expansion plan to launch 230 new construction projects. Internet access from Wisper will provide a minimum of 100 megabits per second download speed and 20 megabits per second upload speed.

LTD Broadband of Albert Lea, MN, was started in 2011 with the sole purpose of servicing rural areas with reliable internet. Since then, LTD Broadband, is one of the fastest growing providers with one of the largest geographical footprints, and their foot is still very much on the gas pedal. While they are fast and efficient at building their network, what sets them apart is their focus on the connection in the home. Most providers install the internet and their job is done. LTD Broadband sets up Wi-Fi mesh systems to ensure customers get the same great coverage in every corner of their house. LTD will be working with members of Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative on a Fiber to the Home project where members will be able to get up to a gig internet with many of their packages having symmetrical upload speeds, so you’ll never be disconnected from a video conference or game again.

These companies recognize the crucial need for high-speed internet access in rural areas, and that is why they are paving the way. We all understand that rural broadband is important to rural America from an economic development standpoint. It has the opportunity to put us on the map as opportunities become greater for more businesses to settle in the area. While it seemed like we may never have access to high-speed internet, three companies have certainly stepped up to the plate, and are working to make a difference for our local communities. If you have any questions about these services, you can reach Current Inc. at 417-257-0504, Wisper, ISP, LLC at 800-765-7772, and LTD Broadband at 507-369-6669.