In a recent story from PEW on the barriers to broadband expansion in Mississippi, Christopher Mitchell, director of ILSR's Community Broadband initiative, provided some context on the potential of electric cooperatives in bridging the digital divide. His contributions are below:
Rural electric co-ops began building fiber networks to homes about 10 years ago, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit advocacy group focused on local solutions for sustainable community development. About 68 rural electric co-ops in 22 states are engaged in fiber optic projects, up from two prior to 2010, according to the group. Another 18 in 11 states have announced or begun building fiber projects that they have not yet turned on, Mitchell said.
“Electric cooperatives are simply the single greatest hope for most of rural America to have really good internet access,” Mitchell said.
Regardless of what happens in Mississippi, the federal 1996 Telecommunications Act says states cannot prevent any entity from providing service.
Hence, Mississippi co-ops could challenge the state, said Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “There is a path forward even in Mississippi if the state doesn’t change the law.”