2019 was highlighted with the announcement of our broadband project. This project will bring true high-speed internet to our entire service area including members and non-members.
High-speed internet has become such a crucial part of our everyday lives that it has become virtually essential to function in this technology-enhanced world. With a large part of rural America being left out of the ability to receive the internet speeds they need, the REMCs have stepped up to provide this service. We are seeing it happen all over the country. As automation moves forward and access to the internet becomes more and more crucial, especially for school-age children, I was extremely pleased when the board decided for us to move into this new business.
Most of 2019 was spent with engineering and setting up the communication required to decide how and where to start. We are hoping that by this summer, we will have enough infrastructure completed to start hooking up service. At the last annual meeting, I told everyone that this was going to be a five-year process. After several meetings and discussions the board has asked us to “speed up” the process and request additional crews to make this happen as soon as possible. As of now, the plan is to try and get this done within three years.
As for how the year went for the electric side of the business, it was again a very mild year in both the winter and the summer. It was very similar to 2018 with just a slight increase. Margins remained strong and construction stayed busy. There was approximately the same number of new homes built as last year, but fewer commercial projects.
As we look forward to 2020, we know that our broadband project will keep us focused on new construction possibilities and will dominate our curiosity on how many customers we can hook up. We have a large electric work plan ready to go and will be concentrating on upgrading older lines to provide enhanced reliability. The economy may be somewhat restricted, but we are hopeful that the Northeast Indiana jobs and construction industry stay strong. This area has always been one of the leading manufacturing areas in the Midwest and has stayed strong even during recessions. So as Northeast Indiana grows, we will be there to provide dependable electric and now high-speed internet service to our members.