Electric cooperatives take active role in expanding rural broadband, study says

A sunset over a barn structure
Electric co-ops bring their own infrastructure to the table, including network construction experiences, utility poles and existing rights of way that can be used to string fiber and other facilities to deliver service to consumers and businesses.

To close the ever-present rural broadband availability divide, electric cooperatives that were formed to bring electricity to rural America are increasingly making the move into broadband to fill the supply gap.

A new CoBank report, which outlined keys to success and lessons learned from six co-ops bringing broadband to their rural customers, revealed that these companies are building out broadband networks to fill the supply gap.

Additionally, the 57-page report included insights from industry experts, which could provide perspective to other co-ops considering the move to offer broadband services.

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"This is vital technology that is equally important for rural communities as it is in urban areas," said Bill LaDuca, CoBank's sector vice president for electric distribution, in a release. “Precision agriculture is hastening a revolution in data usage on the part of American farmers, and increased bandwidth is critical to healthcare, manufacturing, schools and even tourism in these communities.”

As the demand for broadband in rural areas continues to go largely unfulfilled by larger traditional incumbent telcos and cable MSOs, rural electric co-ops are exploring how their existing distribution networks could be used as a platform to deploy broadband services.

Electric co-ops bring their own infrastructure to the table, including network construction experiences, utility poles and existing rights of way that can be used to string fiber and other facilities to deliver service to consumers and businesses.

At the same time, co-ops have found that building out a broadband network over their existing infrastructure can also help them better manage their own electrical grid to support next-generation capabilities such as smart grid and more efficient monitoring. 

According to Co-Bank, a growing number of co-ops have found that a broadband network enables them to 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 an established service provider.