This 4th of July weekend invites us to celebrate the accomplishments of our country. But, 23 million people in rural areas remain without high-speed Internet access.
Rural areas cannot stay unconnected. Agriculture has become a high-tech endeavor, and high-speed Internet access is necessary. Cooperatives, those democratic institutions formed by rural farmers years ago, are becoming an answer.
The Founding Fathers considered rural communities the life-blood of the country. In 1785, Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Jay, stated that:
“[C]ultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. they are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to it’s liberty & interests by the most lasting bands.”
High-Speed Internet Access Supports Agriculture
The Missouri Farmer Today recently wrote ofthe sorry state of rural Internet access for one family-owned business in Missouri, the Perry Agricultural Laboratory. They process soil samples and perform other agricultural testing for both local and international customers but the best connections available are via satellite. The lab constantly goes over its data cap and sometimes cannot send their reports to customers across the globe if the weather interferes with their signal. A high-speed cable runs along the edge of the property, but the company would have to pay $40,000 to connect to it.
The cost to build high-speed networks in rural areas is a familiar one. By banding together, members of cooperatives - whether electric, telephone, or Internet co-op - strengthen their position and gain the leverage to build networks that will ensure they aren't left behind. The Missouri Farmer Today also interviewed Jim Gann, the director of business development with the University of Missouri’s office of the Vice Provost for Economic Development. Gann spoke to the success of Co-Mo Electric’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project:
“We believe that in the economy of the future, where you are physically located is less of an issue than it’s ever been before.”
Co-Mo Electric Cooperative Brings FTTH to Rural Areas
At MuniNetworks, we have followed the story of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative since the beginning of their project in 2012. After being passed over for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding twice, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative decided that its members in the rural Ozarks of Missouri could no longer wait for high-speed Internet access. They began a FTTH project, Co-Mo Connect that is now nearing completion. The project will ensure that all the electric cooperative's members have high-speed Internet access. Co-Mo Connect is now on its 4th and final phase. You can listen to Christopher interview Randy Klindt from the co-op in episode #140 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
Watch this video featured by the Co-Mo Electric Cooperative about the importance of electric cooperatives for rural communities and democracy. Electric cooperatives now have the potential to bring next-generation, future-proof infrastructure to rural communities across the U.S.