When privately owned utilities refused to electrify rural areas, communities established electric cooperatives to light up their homes and farms. A recently released report, Unlocking the Value of Broadband for Electric Cooperative Consumer-Members, describes how electric co-ops now have an opportunity revisit that role as they bring Internet access to their rural members nationwide.
The report, published in September by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), finds that millions of people in electric cooperative service territories lack access to broadband. As the report explains, rural electric cooperatives are uniquely poised to meet their members’ needs for better connectivity. However, public investment may still be necessary to connect many rural communities.
Co-ops Could Meet Rural Broadband Needs
Like many rural Americans, members of electric cooperatives often find themselves unserved or underserved by the existing Internet service providers. The report’s authors estimate that more than 6 million electric co-op households — a total of 13.4 million people — don’t have access to broadband, defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Even more co-op members are likely struggling with poor connectivity because of how the FCC data overstates broadband availability and access.
There are several reasons why rural electric cooperatives are in a good position to bring modern-day connectivity to their unserved members, the report notes. Perhaps the most important advantage is that many co-ops are already investing in broadband networks to support smart grid technologies, such as advanced metering infrastructure (“smart meters”). The report points out that a broadband backbone ”not only enables the co-op’s smart grid operations, it also enables connectivity to the broader Internet backbone.” By expanding off their existing...Read more