In Missouri, rural electric cooperatives are bringing high-quality connectivity to an increasing number of small towns where large corporate Internet access companies don't consider population density high enough to justify investment. A few years ago, we reported that Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) was connecting New London, their hometown. Now, RCEC is expanding their network into nearby Perry.
It Took A While, But It's Coming
In the small town of Perry (pop. 700) in northeastern Missouri, many businesses currently lack the Internet speeds they need to operate successfully. With the current speeds available, as Senior Vice President of HNB Bank Jeff Albus explained, customers at the bank often have to wait while the employees stare “at a spinning wheel on [their] screen.” In order to secure Internet speeds necessary for a future in the digital age, HNB Bank decided to take initiative and work with the town to approach RCEC about expanding their fiber network into Perry.
Efforts began in 2016. At the time, RCEC was deployng their $19 million project aimed at serving rural areas around the town of Perry but not in the city limits. HNB and community leaders floated a petition and the Mayor had signed a letter of support on behalf of the City Council. With only CenturyLink DSL and satellite coverage to choose from, businesses and residents needed more options.
The community is considered the Southern Gateway to the Mark Twain Lake, where more than 2 million tourists come to enjoy summer recreation. As we've learned from places such as Cook County, Minnesota, and Colorado ski communities, such as Estes Park, high-quality Internet access is an expectation that an increasing number of tourists expect no matter where they go to relax.
From Electricity to Fiber
RCEC got its start in 1936 providing inexpensive electricity to unserved rural residents of northeastern Missouri. Over the years, RCEC expanded into Internet and digital phone service and in 2014, RCEC completed a fiber optic network reaching all of its members. Currently, over 70 percent of RCEC members subscribe to the fiber Internet services offered through the coop’s subsidiary, Ralls Technologies, LLC. After recently covering Saverton and New London, RCEC will continue the expansion of its fiber network into Perry starting in February 2019 with customer service set to begin in late March.
Closing A Digital Divide
RCEC’s Perry expansion will bring northeastern Missouri one step closer to ending its urban-rural digital divide. Despite the fact that high-speed Internet access is just as essential for farmers in rural communities as it is for people in urban areas, rural areas still lack broadband providers and competition. Lynn Hodges, the manager at RCEC, believes that the new high-speed Internet in Perry will not only be important for businesses trying to compete in an increasingly world economy, like HNB Bank, but will also greatly improve the town’s quality of life. With many rural areas currently experiencing population decline, Hodges hopes that the “ability to access the world of the Internet goes a long way toward helping retain those folks and keep them in a rural setting."
As Internet access becomes more essential to daily life, municipal governments and co-ops are making strides to bring access to places that need it most. People and businesses in Perry will soon see the results of their persistence in pursuing better connectivity from the local rural electric co-op. As Albus stated:
“So many people are so dependent on those services just for their own farm, or small business, or personally, it’s a big deal here in the state of Missouri and it’s something that makes a difference here in the town of Perry for ourselves and our citizens.”