Enel Open Fiber signed its first agreement in August to lay fiber to homes across Venice starting in September.

Enel launched its Open Fiber group earlier this year to coincide with coming smart meter upgrades across Italy through 2020. The company will invest $2.8 billion to build out the fiber network as part of a broader plan to deploy 33 million advanced meters.

"Enel is taking a novel approach for a first-tier utility. It will capitalize on the service visit required to replace its aging first-generation meter fleet to install the infrastructure to provide fiber to the home, which lowers installation costs for both to an estimated €110 ($123) per household,” said Ben Kellison, director of grid research for GTM Research.

The energy giant said it will open the network to all operators. However, Reuters reported that Telcom Italia is building its own high-speed broadband network, which could put Enel and Telecom Italia into competition.

Enel announced earlier this year it aims to cover more than 220 cities, including large municipalities and remote towns. Although Enel will not become an internet provider directly, its fiber could boost the prospects for providers competing against Telecom Italia. Enel has said it only wants to be responsible for building and maintaining the network.

The fiber rollout helps Enel diversify its revenue. Energy companies across the world are considering similar moves -- whether that’s adding fiber as they roll trucks to install new meters, or connecting LED streetlights using the smart meter network as a backbone.

Enel was an early mover on smart meters 15 years ago as it installed digital meters to cut down on theft. Smart meters have advanced considerably in performance and cost since that time. And the fiber is a fraction of the thickness it was more than a decade ago, so Enel says it will (mostly) not have to dig up streets to install the technology.

The utility is expected to announce the meter design and provider in September.

In Venice, the network will consist of 300 miles of underground wires and 300 miles of overhead network. Enel expects to have half complete by next fall and 80 percent complete by mid-2018. The network will support speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, the same speed of Google Fiber. 

Other utilities have made similar investments. Chattanooga EPB, the municipal utility for the city in Tennessee, provides fiber internet service to its customers and one of the most reliable smart grids in the nation. Customers outside the utility’s service territory have been asking for EPB's internet service, but a court recently ruled the utility could only serve customers within its territory.