TAMPA, Fla.—Today's co-op members want broadband the way that 1930s-era members wanted electricity. But should your co-op take the plunge?
"I kind of feel like we're hitting reset from 80 years ago, when co-ops were tapped to bring electricity to rural areas," said NRECA Vice President Curtis Wynn, CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative in Aulander, North Carolina.
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"We're getting a lot of attention—and demand, in some places—to make this happen in our communities," noted Wynn, who led a CONNECT '17 session on broadband.
The place to start is with a feasibility study.
"It's a way to look at what it's really going to take to do this," said Chris Martin, vice president, member and industry relations at NRTC.
"You usually find it's going to be really hard, maybe it's going to take multiple technologies, maybe it's going to take a phased approach so we do this community first and that community second," he said.
While broadband might be desirable for a rural community, it might not be a sustainable investment for a co-op. "Maybe you're going to find that it doesn't pencil out," Martin said.
In that case, he suggested looking at uses beyond what members expect.
"A broadband infrastructure can be used for internal use, smart grid, communications and consumer applications," he told the May 3 session at the Tampa Marriott Waterside.
Midwest Energy Cooperative in Cassopolis, Michigan, already has 4,200 fiber internet customers. Candy Riem, vice president, marketing, member and information services, said co-ops heading down that road should use the best practices they already use on the electric side.
"Do what you know works," said Riem, who advises talking to and visiting other co-ops already building broadband.
"Talk to your vendors. You never know where that relationship might lead you to," said Riem, adding that your Rural Utilities Service representative should also be engaged.
"We were amazed at what they were willing to do for us to start this project," she said.