Vernon Communications Cooperative (VC Co-op), serving much of rural Vernon County, Wisconsin, was recently named a Certified Gig-Capable Provider by NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. VC Co-op joins a growing list of rural cooperatives that are offering gigabit connectivity to members in places where national Internet service providers don’t want to invest in infrastructure. The certification requires that "gigabit technology is currently commercially available within 95 percent of one or more exchanges within [the provider's] serving territory and that such service can be provided without new trenching or stringing new aerial facilities."
Why Do Co-ops Always Start? To Fill A Need
VC Co-op started as a telephone cooperative in 1951 when local farmers collaborated, obtained funding from the Rural Electrification Act, and formed the Vernon Telephone Cooperative. After partnering with other telephone companies in the region to establish Internet service in the early 1990s, VC Co-op also began offering long distance voice and television services in 2001.
VC Co-op has also made a name for themselves by offering twelve community television channels that broadcast various local events, including school sports and concerts, local weather, and even radio shows.
By 2008, VC Co-op had finished upgrading their network in the county seat of Viroqua (pop. 4,400), replacing copper lines with fiber. Viroqua has taken advantage of the fiber in ways that touch almost all aspects of daily life. In addition to public safety, healthcare, and education, local businesses using fiber connectivity have been able to grow beyond the limits of Viroqua. All the while, the VC Co-op has served the community with the same spirit we see from other cooperatives.
Organic Valley, a farmers cooperative with headquarters in Vernon County, suffered a catastrophic fire in 2013. Without missing a beat, VC Co-op connected 21 temporary locations to house Organic Valley employees and established a connection for the farmers cooperative in another building.
VC Co-op is in the process of expanding its network to members throughout the county and, according to its fiber construction map, it has almost reached its goal. In addition to voice, video, and Internet access, VC Co-op offers a home security and automation service.
In Vernon County, Wisconsin, about 30,000 people live on 816 square miles. Agriculture is a key part of the economy in the rural southwestern part of the state. Vernon County’s western border is along the Mississippi River with Minnesota on the other side. It’s located on a ridge known as the “drift less” region because the glaciers didn’t reach the area, leaving it filled with bluffs, ridges, and hills.
Room For Improvement
Unlike many other cooperatives that offer fiber connectivity, VC Co-op's service isn't symmetrical. We were surprised and disappointed to see that they offer slow upload speeds of only 1 Megabit per second (Mbps) and that they charge extra to increase upload speeds. This type of business practice doesn't recognize members as participants in e-commerce who use the Internet to send data, but considers them to be consumers who only receive it. Limiting members to only 1 Mbps for upload speeds prevents members from telework unless they pay extra for increased capacity.
Check out the video below for more about Viroqua, VC Co-op, and the story on Organic Valley. The video also offers testimonials from others who swear by the network, including officials from local schools, public safety, and local business owners.