Electric cooperatives delivering broadband already operate on a business model that mandates universal service and should be exempt from new digital nondiscrimination requirements, NRECA told the Federal Communications Commission.

NRECA submitted comments April 2 requesting that FCC exempt electric co-ops from new rules for a major compliance initiative to prevent discriminatory access to high-speed internet.

NRECA also asked the FCC to include a “small entity” exemption for broadband providers with fewer than 100,000 customers should the commission finalize the rules later this year, which would include co-ops.

The 200-plus member co-ops that “provide broadband service generally do so on a universal basis already,” NRECA told the commission. “The cooperative model itself protects against the digital discrimination concerns raised” in the FCC’s proposed rulemaking.

“These rules stand to impose undue cost and resource obligations on electric co-ops that have provided services to all their members without discrimination since their inception nearly 100 years ago,” said Greg Orlando, NRECA senior regulatory director.

“In delivering reliable broadband service, electric co-ops remain fully committed to their principles of nondiscrimination, making additional compliance regulations, as proposed here, an unnecessary financial burden to these small entities and their members.”

The proposed rules would require that broadband providers file publicly available annual reports on “large-scale broadband deployments, upgrades and maintenance projects,” in progress or completed, and the communities they serve.

Broadband providers would also be required to create a compliance program indicating what communities are served by “recent, pending, and planned large-scale projects” and how the providers’ policies might impact consumer access.

NRECA told the commission that the new rules would overburden electric co-ops that build broadband to unserved communities. These co-ops are typically small in budget and staff compared to traditional telecommunications companies providing internet access, which are historically large and can absorb these additional compliance costs and personnel requirements.

“Rural electric cooperatives are not driven by profit, but by the obligation to provide necessary services to all cooperative members no matter where they are located, at a reasonable cost,” NRECA said.

“The new obligations would impose a significant and costly regulatory burden on electric cooperatives and other small providers, which promise to play a key role in addressing the digital divide, and whose scarce resources are better put elsewhere.”