Fiber Utility Network Inc. (FUN) — a coalition of eight electric co-ops, their subsidiaries and key partners dedicated to expediting a world-class, middle-mile broadband backbone across Alabama — has named broadband industry veteran Chris Skelton as Chief Technology Officer.
“Chris has roots in Alabama and brings 30 years of experience in the broadband industry. His understanding of the need for broadband in today’s environment gives him deep insights into the technological, financial and operational challenges of building cutting-edge networks,” said FUN Board Chairman and Central Alabama Electric Cooperative President/CEO, Tom Stackhouse. “His unique skillset and background are the perfect fit as we begin to offer high-bandwidth, high-value and resilient broadband services to last-mile broadband providers throughout the state.”
Skelton’s professional telecommunications career began three decades ago at Comcast, where for more than 20 years he held various regional and corporate leadership positions deploying fiber networks and cutting-edge technology into dozens of markets spanning multiple U.S. states. He later served as engineering consultant director for the Huntsville Utilities fiber project, which now supports connectivity requirements for Huntsville Utilities and the City of Huntsville, as well as Google Fiber as an ISP anchor tenant by providing FTTH gigabit broadband access for every resident in the city. He was most recently chief technology and operations officer for a national ISP company where he successfully launched multiple fiber network projects using grants and private equity funding to bring broadband services to unserved and underserved local communities.
“Throughout my career in the broadband industry, I’ve tried to improve service for areas that need it most,” said Skelton. “I’m excited about the robust fiber connections that FUN will deliver to last-mile broadband providers and help them expand their services into all areas of Alabama.”
The Fiber Utility Network was born because there was a need to bring high-speed broadband service to all Alabama communities, many of which were being left out of the rising digital economy. To bring the service closer, Central Alabama Electric Cooperative, Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative, Covington Electric Cooperative, Cooperative Connection LLC (a subsidiary of Cullman Electric Cooperative), JWEMC Communications LLC (a subsidiary of Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Cooperative), North Alabama Electric Cooperative, Tombigbee Electric Cooperative, and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative joined fiber lease partner Alabama Power Company in a cooperative fashion and offered to help meet the need.
In September 2022, Gov. Kay Ivey announced that FUN would receive an $82,450,000 grant by way of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the creation of a statewide middle-mile network. When completed, this 3,000-mile network comprised of both existing and new fiber infrastructure will stretch across the entire state. The network will deliver direct high-speed connection for those companies providing broadband service to Alabama residences and businesses.
Once the grant award was made, fiber network specialist Mighty River, LLC was hired to help manage the startup of the project. Engineering firm Vantage Point Solutions was engaged in July 2023 to engineer the connections between the partners’ existing fiber segments and is targeted to have an active network in 2024 with completion set for 2026.