Electric cooperatives considering a retail broadband project can now learn from the experiences of their fellow co-ops who have already taken the plunge.

A new report from NRECA’s Business and Technology Strategies group catalogues the challenges, innovations and milestones from high-speed internet rollouts by 20 co-ops in 16 states. 

And with billions of dollars in federal broadband funding coming up for bid later this year, the timing couldn’t be better.  

“There are a number of drivers–in addition to certain financial implications–that a co-op needs to consider when exploring the feasibility of deploying broadband,” said Paul Breakman, BTS senior director. “Co-ops preparing to compete in the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund should take a close look at our recent report and the 20 case studies as they map out their own broadband strategies.” 

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to open bidding on the first phase of the RDOF reverse auction on Oct. 22 with $16 billion for census blocks that are wholly unserved with fixed broadband at speeds of at least 25 megabits per second/3 Mbps for data download/upload.

While not necessarily statistically representative of NRECA’s 900 members, the geographic and operational diversity of the co-ops profiled in the case studies should make their experiences relevant and instructive, Breakman said. He added that data from the studies suggests the trend toward more co-op broadband will continue and shows most co-ops are managing their projects well.

“Nothing from these case studies suggests that this shift into broadband by electric co-ops is slowing down or producing undesirable outcomes for the featured co-ops,” he said.

The co-ops and the one G&T in the report have collectively spent $700 million in broadband communication networks and plan to spend another $370 million during the next five years for a total broadband investment of over $1 billion. That is an average of $50 million per co-op in the case studies.

Among the key findings:

  • The featured co-ops have deployed nearly 27,000 miles of fiber-optic cable.
  • Currently, just over 100,000 electric co-op members and non-members subscribe to these co-ops’ broadband service and more are subscribing each month.
  • The take rate of subscribers for broadband averaged 42%.
  • About half the co-ops studied serve broadband customers outside their electric service territory, and many others plan to do likewise. One co-op reported having more broadband subscribers than electric members. 
Explore NRECA’s resources on broadband.