WASHINGTON, September 27, 2017 - Electric cooperatives are stepping in to aid rural communities with the increasingly essential infrastructure need of internet access, according to a recent CoBank report which says the co-ops are filling in to provide broadband services to consumers in unserved areas of the country. The move into broadband strongly mimics cooperatives’ actions to fill the electricity supply gap 80 years ago.
“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. “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.”
Incorporating broadband into their current distribution networks has proven efficient for many of the co-ops. Others have partnered with established telecommunications providers to offer high-speed internet.
“The consultants and co-ops we spoke with to develop our report were very candid in sharing their experiences and challenges,” said 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.”
The electric cooperatives’ work in improving rural access to high-speed data has been largely dependent upon grants and loans offered through the USDA. Those opportunities are set to expire with the current farm bill if not renewed. The Senate Agriculture Committee will review rural development and energy programs on Thursday, at which time they are expected to discuss the issue of rural broadband.
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