Electric cooperatives involved in or supporting delivery of high-speed internet will have an exclusive opportunity to network with co-op leaders and meet with key decisionmakers in policy and regulatory arenas at the first NRECA Broadband Leadership Summit this fall.

The conference will be held Nov. 17-18 in Washington, D.C., and include critical updates on the legislative, economic, political and technological issues impacting broadband deployment in rural America. The summit is limited to NRECA Broadband participants.

"Bridging the digital divide is essential to the future of America's rural communities,” NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said.

“As we've done for 80 years on the electric side, we want NRECA Broadband to be a strong advocate for electric cooperatives,” he said. “This requires support from co-ops that are working to deploy broadband as we jumpstart a new conversation on co-op telecom priorities and work to foster stronger relationships between co-ops and Washington policymakers. This conference will be an important starting point for both objectives.”

More than 200 electric co-ops are in the broadband space and many others are assessing whether to participate. To meet this growing interest, NRECA expanded its services, expertise and resources into telecommunications and launched NRECA Broadband in July.

Participants in this separate fee-based service receive specific federal advocacy, targeted resources, new learning events and focused business and technology support. This inaugural leadership summit is the first of these exclusive services and events.

One session will focus on the recently completed nationwide maps by the Federal Communications Commission showing unserved areas that are eligible for federal grants, such as those from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. The BEAD program is the largest source of broadband grants from the 2021 infrastructure law.

Staff from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will also participate in a session focused on the ins and outs of the BEAD program.

Participants will also learn about regulatory obligations and compliance, as well as tax implications and considerations specific to electric co-ops in the broadband business, including those owning or contracting with entities engaged in delivering internet access.

Another panel of policy experts will discuss the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program, which provides hundreds of millions of dollars for rural broadband, and the 2023 Farm Bill that is expected to continue funding the program.

Telecom policy expert Christopher Ali, in a discussion with NRECA Vice President Paul Breakman, will provide analysis on the promise and failures of national rural broadband policy and observations about a more sustainable direction. Ali is a telecommunications professor at The Pennsylvania State University and author of “Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity.”

Attendees may also participate in a brainstorming session on future priorities and strategies for serving communities lacking high-speed internet.

The deadline to book accommodations at NRECA’s discounted hotel rate is October 26.

Interested in participating in NRECA Broadband? Visit cooperative.com/broadband to learn more and sign up.