Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Cooperative customers should start receiving ballots this week for a special election concerning a high-speed internet project with the co-op.
Following three public meetings in Lawrence County—and three in Morgan County—last month, in which JWEMC General Manager George Kitchens detailed the internet service plans to members, votes for the service will be counted on Nov. 1.
JWEMC Communications Director Michael Cornelison said ballots were mailed from Montgomery in the last week of September, and responses should be returned as soon as possible.
The accounting firm handling the votes must receive the ballots no later than Oct. 29. Ballots that are received later than Oct. 29 will not be counted regardless of postmark, Cornelison said.
Voters may also respond on Nov. 1 by visiting the JWEMC Office in Trinity. Votes will be accepted in person that day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Pending approval, customers who subscribe to the service can expect to pay an estimate of $40 to $60 a month for the smallest internet package, which will deliver consistent speeds of 200 megabytes per second, according to the co-op.
The service will not affect electric rates, and it is not mandatory for members who vote yes to subscribe to the service, Cornelison said.
“Even if it’s something that you don’t think you would use, a ‘yes’ vote means that it would be available to your neighbors, and it’s not going to cost you anything,” he added.
A majority 51 percent approval among members is needed by Nov. 1 for the plan to move forward, and the co-op will need to receive about 1,200 ballots to form a quorum, according to Kitchens.
As an incentive, the co-op is holding a drawing among all those who participate in the election. Voters will be entered for a chance to win a $100 gift card; 10 cards will be given away.
If a majority of members vote yes, rural areas in Lawrence and Morgan counties could begin receiving internet services from JWEMC in about a year.
Kitchens has said it is still too early to determine what areas might receive the service first, but the designing and engineering process should begin in the first quarter of 2020.
Though it could take up to five years to make the service available to all 43,000 members, some customers could start receiving the service beginning in the fall of 2020.
“If we get a large response, it could speed things up,” added Cornelison. “Of course, we’re limited by construction speed, but the more interest we get, we hope to get more people signed up quicker. That will get it out to everybody even faster.”
He said live feeds that were posted to social media during the six public meetings are still available on the JWEMC Facebook page. Members may also visit the co-op’s website for further updates and election information.