Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Study finds cooperatives deployed most rural fiber broadband, recommends ways to help co-ops do more

Institute for Local Self-Reliance map; click the image to enlarge it.
New research has found that cooperatives are responsible for deploying nearly three-quarters of the fiber-optic broadband in the rural United States. Most of the co-ops were formed decades ago to provide electric or telephone service, but a few were established recently for building out broadband, Joan Engebretson reports for the trade publication Telecompetitor.

The report is an update of a 2017 report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for local-government solutions. "According to ILSR, there are approximately 260 telecom cooperatives and 900 electric cooperatives in the U.S. and they serve much of rural America. While telecom cooperative fiber deployments are quite common, such deployments are becoming increasingly common among electric cooperatives as well," Engebretson reports. "Currently, about 10 percent of electric cooperatives have a fiber internet access project and many more are considering such projects, according to ILSR. More than 110 rural electric cooperatives in the U.S. have embarked on fiber projects, according to the researchers."

In its report, ILSR provides several recommendations for policymakers to encourage more co-ops to build out broadband, including:
  • Designing funding programs with cooperatives in mind.
  • Encouraging partnerships with cooperatives and remove barriers to broadband implementation.
  • Talking to people in the community and make it clear that broadband isn't just about entertainment; it's important for farming and other jobs.

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