Broadband Communities

JUL 2014

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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10 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | | JULY 2014 FTTH DEPLOYMENTS Electric Co-ops Build Rural Broadband Networks Electric co-ops in underserved areas have many natural advantages as broadband providers. Some are now building out fber to the home. By Craig Settles / Gigabit Nation B roadband is often compared to other vital utilities, such as electricity, water and gas. When discussing broadband in rural communities, industry and media draw parallels to the 1930s-era eforts by electric cooperatives to bring electricity to communities that investor-owned utilities refused to serve. Today, electric cooperatives are reinventing themselves as broadband providers. Tere are roughly 900 electric co-ops nationwide, which serve mostly rural areas and small towns. Estimates indicate that 10 to 15 percent of them may ultimately launch some type of broadband deployment to remedy a lack of services from incumbent providers to their members. Of all the entities capable of driving broadband deployment, few are as well equipped as electric co-ops to build and operate high-speed networks that meet rural communities' specifc needs. Most have 70- plus years' experience providing a vital service, their existing business and service operations are similar in many ways to ISP operations, customer loyalty runs deep and community members literally own the co-ops. Co-ops are skilled at building, maintaining and operating outside-plant infrastructure. Tis includes electrical plant, but many have also built out fber to substations to meet their internal network needs. Understanding and responding to rural communities' needs is the modus operandi of co-ops. Tose tasked with developing efective strategies for getting better – or any – broadband into rural and urban communities should analyze how co-ops are tackling the broadband challenge. Metropolitan areas obviously do not have the issues of sparse population and difcult terrain that rural communities face. However, some aspects of electric co-ops' operations, such as being owned by community members and having nonproft status, can be replicated in underserved urban areas. KNOW WHAT RURAL COMMUNITIES NEED A challenge for rural communities is developing strategies that refect their needs. "A lot of the organizations doing economic analysis and creating or infuencing broadband policy come from big cities and bring only big-city perspectives to solutions they recommend," states Don Sidlowski, civic/government strategist for the Northwoods Broadband Economic Development Coalition in northern Wisconsin. "For example, they measure success in terms of a new company's bringing hundreds of jobs to an area because of broadband. For us, a company's bringing 10 jobs has a major impact or having a dozen senior executives moving here because of the good connectivity and then spending thousands of dollars with local businesses." Co-Mo Electric in Tipton, Mo., is quickly becoming the poster child for electric co-ops.

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