Irby and Render Networks partner to deliver Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation’s fiber expansion project nearly two years ahead of schedule and 20% under budget
Render, a global leader in geospatial fiber deployment technology, and Irby, a subsidiary of privately held Sonepar USA and turnkey utility infrastructure distribution company, have today announced the results of Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation (CECC) and its wholly-owned subsidiary, empower, fiber network project supporting 30,000 members across rural northeast Arkansas.
Leveraging a strong track record with Irby, and utilization of Render’s geospatial construction technology, 3,500 miles of fiber optic cable, CECC has connected over 10,000 locations - 5,000 more than planned - 20 months ahead of time and 20% under budget.
In 2017, with 44% of its members without access to FCC-defined broadband, CECC pioneered a $110 million five-year strategy to modernize the grid with a communications network and deliver symmetrical, gigabit fiber solutions to every household across the region.
Geff Smith, VP of Technology & Communications, Irby said: “This was a complex construction undertaking. From the outset, there was pressure to accelerate the rollout and install fiber as quickly as possible.
'We needed tools that would help us cut through the complexity, and Render delivered the network design into manageable tasks but more importantly gave us the visibility to make informed decisions on the infrastructure whilst continuing to construct in an agile manner.’
With project milestones and location-based build prioritization becoming a key consideration following the successful addition of CAF II and RDOF funding, CECC recognized that a flexible, geospatial construction approach was critical to ensure the build kept moving, despite the peak of construction being delivered throughout a global materials shortage and pandemic.
The combination of Irby’s material procurement expertise and optimization of resources through Render’s end-to-end digital delivery, CECC was able to maintain an accelerated pace of deployment, improving production rates by greater than 30% and reducing project administration resourcing by an unheard of 75%.
Like most cooperatives, depth of fiber deployment expertise was limited and CECC relied on Irby’s end-to-end digital delivery approach, including Render’s best-in-class technology and global deployment expertise to ensure the project continued to exceed timeline and member expectations. Eliminating manual processes and duplicated data entry enabled project stakeholders across CECC, Irby and their contractors to access real-time geospatial progress views and make data-driven decisions throughout the multi-year deployment.
"At a time when our industry is faced with chronic shortages and costly overruns, we are confidently defying project norms and delivering faster with less resources.” said Smith.
Render CEO Sam Pratt said: “These kinds of rollouts are the great equalizer for underserved rural communities,however they can prove challenging due to the large geographic workfront and limited cell and Internet access, which is precisely the challenge empower and Irby are there to solve.. We’re delighted that the Renderplatform and know-how helped enable CECC, Irby and the construction contractor D&H Contracting to streamline deployment planning, work allocation, oversight, and administration - and ultimately deliver much-needed connectivity to an underserved community of CECC members earlier than I think anyone thought possible.”
Jeremiah Sloan, COO, of CECC said: We knew the need for broadband in our member communities was great so we wanted to do everything we could to accelerate the construction of our fiber network. We were able to build at an unprecedented rate, accelerating the connection of households in need of broadband alongside the deployment of smart grid technologies to critical electrical infrastructure. We’re now well-positioned to not only meet the broadband needs of our members but also continue to deliver safe, reliable, and affordable power by leveraging our fiber network. It would have been impossible to realize these achievements without Render’s revolutionary approach to construction management and a strong technology and material partnership with Irby Utilities. ”
Irby Utilities and Render are partnering to deliver a number of cooperative networks across Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi including Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, First Electric Cooperative Corporation, Tippah Electric Power Association, Clay County Electric Cooperative Corporation and Woodruff Electric Cooperative Corporation. Irby and partners’ have experienced recent broadband funding success with all six turnkey projects participating in the RDOF auction securing over $100 million in broadband funding.