Thomasville Times-Enterprise - June 3rd, 2017
Written by Jill Nolin
ATLANTA — Electric cooperatives once turned on the lights in remote communities where power companies didn’t go because of the cost.
State legislators are now asking whether these co-ops can do the same for broadband internet service, which continues to lag in some rural and even mid-sized communities.
At least two of Georgia’s 41 not-for-profit electric membership corporations already offer fiber broadband service; at least one other, Central Georgia EMC in Jackson, is considering it. ...
Nationally, electric cooperatives are relatively new to fiber broadband, but their involvement is “growing enormously,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
And in some states, such as Missouri, electric cooperatives have become significant factors in improving broadband access in the rural communities where members have embraced the service. There are as many as 50 such broadband projects across the country.
“I think the number one barrier to EMCs is not the threat of failure,” Mitchell said. “It’s a kind of inertia to keep doing what they have been doing, and I think that’s changing more rapidly than I thought, candidly.
“But I think that’s the number one reason why we don’t see a hundred or 200 of the EMCs in this right now, although I think we’ll be there in another year or two from the rate of escalation we’re seeing,” he added.
Cost is major factor, too. Mitchell said EMCs would likely need financial assistance from state or federal governments to launch a network in a reasonable timeframe.
“EMCs could slowly expand over 10 or 20 years, but I think many of those houses will not be occupied over 10 or 20 years if they do not have a higher quality of service,” he said.