BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.
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38 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | MAY/JUNE 2016 RURAL BROADBAND Electric Co-Ops: A Path to Rural Broadband Electric cooperatives are well positioned to deliver broadband to underserved rural areas – if they follow the right strategies. By Robert Yadon and D. Bracken Ross / Digital Policy Institute, Ball State University R ural areas of the United States continue to be on the wrong side of the digital divide, with 53 percent of the rural population lacking access to broadband services of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, according to the FCC. Failure to fnd a solution will impact rural economic development, income growth, household income, employment, primary and secondary education, and access to health care and government services. Already, the lack of rural broadband promotes population migration from rural to urban areas. One can easily concur with the FCC that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. Yet amid these concerns, there is the potential for good news on rural broadband, with rural electric membership cooperatives (REMCs) as the catalyst. In the mid-1930s, 90 percent of homes in rural areas didn't have electricity, and businesses built their ofces and factories in major metropolitan areas to gain easy access to electric power. Today, electric service is ubiquitous in rural America in the same way broadband service should be. Historically, electric cooperatives have attempted to meet the broadband needs of their members via wireless, satellite and broadband over power line technologies, with mixed results. Clearly, the issue is not demand for broadband, because these membership-owned electric co-ops exist in territories that are either unserved or underserved by broadband today. ELECTRIC CO-OPS IN PRIME POSITION By virtue of geography alone, electric cooperatives are in prime position to be part of the rural broadband solution. In Indiana, for example, approximately 80 percent of the geographic territory is served by rural electric cooperatives, according to Indiana Electric Cooperatives (IEC), a service organization for cooperatives. Unlike most cable frms and Internet service providers, which often cherry-pick the highest-density areas in a market, REMCs already provide electricity to every household in their territory, and their members are generally eager for afordable broadband service. Te questions for any REMC are whether it has sufcient resources to build and operate a fber optic broadband network, under what business conditions it might do so, and whether this activity is consistent with its service mission. By virtue of geography alone, electric co-ops are in prime position to be part of the rural broadband solution.