Cooperatives and Rural Broadband

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Underserved communities can provide broadband for themselves through nonprofit, cooperative entities. Many co-ops that were originally set up to provide phone service and distribute electricity now deliver broadband as well. Rural electric and telephone cooperatives are fiberizing rural America. Following are a few examples of the hundreds of successful cooperative projects. 

  • Taylor Electric Cooperative in the Abilene (TX) region, started building Fiber-to-the-Home adjacent to an office it used for network electronics. This allowed it to deliver quickly and at a low cost.
  • For decades, Paul Bunyan Communications has found ways to connect people in northern Minnesota. The cooperative started as a telephone carrier, and over the years, it expanded coverage and services. It now offers gigabit FTTH to around 30,000 premises within a 5,000-square-mile area that reaches into six counties.

Although telephone cooperatives have the authority to provide broadband services, electric co-ops’ authority varies from state to state. Rural cooperatives that want to provide high-quality internet access to subscribers in their service areas can be assisted by state and local laws. 

[Lisa Gonzalez is a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance]

Cooperatives and Rural Broadband