Electric co-ops stepping in to fill America’s rural broadband gap

Rural co-op bank CoBank has released a report outlining lessons from the efforts the movement has made to get remote parts of the USA online

With internet communications becoming more crucial to the economy, rural areas of the USA are in danger of being left behind, with people four times more likely to lack access to broadband than those in urban communities.

To help close the gap, rural electric co-operatives – some of which were formed nearly 80 years ago to bring electricity to rural America – are stepping up to provide a service.

CoBank – a $125bn co-operative bank serving vital industries across rural America – has released a 57-page report outlining keys to success and lessons learned from six co-ops bringing broadband to their rural customers.

The report also features insights from industry experts provide their insights, to offer guidance to other co-ops considering the move.

“This is vital technology that is equally important for rural communities as it is in urban areas,” said Bill LaDuca, sector vice president for electric distribution, CoBank.

“Precision agriculture is hastening a revolution in data usage on the part of American farmers, and increased bandwidth is critical to health care, manufacturing, schools and even tourism in these communities.”

Within this landscape, rural electric co-ops are exploring how their existing distribution networks may lend themselves to highly efficient deployment of broadband.

Many co-ops have found that building out a broadband network using their existing infrastructure is an efficient way to help manage a modern, connected electrical grid as well as a productive way to serve rural customers with high-speed internet either on their own or through a partnership with established telecommunications providers.

“The consultants and co-ops we spoke with to develop our report were very candid in sharing their experiences and challenges,” said Mr LaDuca.

“We believe these in-depth interviews can be tremendously helpful to other co-ops evaluating broadband and investigating funding sources. Bridging the data divide is critically important for our rural communities and CoBank is supportive of efforts similar to what these electric co-ops have done for their constituencies.”


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