Journalist Jill Nolin recently dove into the details of electric cooperatives and Internet service in an article for the Thomasville Times-Enterprise in Georgia. Rural electric co-ops offer an avenue for robust rural connectivity that is in keeping with the long-standing rural tradition of self-reliance.
Talking With The Cooperatives
The article features interviews with several local electric cooperatives (EMCs) for their perspective on providing Internet service. Nolin spoke with Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, an electric cooperative that has been offering Internet service for almost ten years.
“Sometimes you have to venture out and do what’s right because your members need you to do it, because they’re demanding you to do it and because it’s the right thing to do. That’s what we did. We ventured out. We didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” -- Erik Brinke, Economic Development Director for Blue Ridge Mountain EMC
Nolin explored several possible barriers facing electric cooperatives that want to provide Internet service: from murky legal territory to capital funding. Christopher 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,”
Nolin describes how the electric cooperatives are currently asking for the law to be clearly spelled out in the state of Georgia.
Electric Cooperatives Across the Country
Many electric cooperatives around the country have started projects and programs to connect residents and businesses. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we have counted about 50 electric cooperatives involved so far. Our report on North Carolina noted how the rural electric cooperatives could provide Internet access to many unserved communities in that state; changes in the law would allow better EMCs to offer connectivity to many areas of the state.
In Michigan, Midwest Energy Cooperative is expanding its Internet service to new areas and so far demand has exceeded expectations. Meanwhile, two electric cooperatives, Kit Carson and Continental Divide, are teaming up in rural New Mexico to build a far-reaching fiber network. Over in Arkansas, Ouachita Electric has formed a partnership with a local telephone company to provide high-speed Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to residents and businesses.
Rural electric cooperatives have great potential to reach many unserved or underserved areas. Many have already found that providing Internet service is well inline with their values and mission.
We recommend reading Nolin's whole article on the Thomasville Times-Enterprise.
Also check out our past coverage of rural telephone and electric cooperatives. We have compiled a list of gigabit cooperatives and featured several interviews on the Broadband Bits Podcast, including Co-Mo and United Fiber in Missouri.
The article is also available at The Flyer.