As each day passes without access to robust broadband service in rural America, the digital
divide widens between our urban and rural populations. Rural electric cooperatives provide
electricity to more than 42 million Americans. We serve the lowest population density by mile,
averaging just 7 consumer owners per mile of line. In the 1930s, electric cooperatives brought
electricity to rural America when the for-profit utilities would not. Today, that same scenario is
being replayed as broadband service is not being deployed universally throughout rural America.
Without access to robust broadband, rural Americans cannot take advantage of the educational
opportunities or employment prospects that most Americans now take for granted. Electric
cooperatives need access to robust broadband service to manage their systems. As technology
advances in the electric industry, utilities need more sophisticated telecommunications
technology. Our member cooperatives deploy automated metering systems, energy efficiency
and demand response programs, and grid monitoring systems that require real-time
communication in order to provide safe, reliable electricity 24 hours a day.
Electric cooperatives are pursuing and implementing plans utilizing varied models to deploy
broadband to rural America. Through the Recovery Act broadband programs delivered by the
Rural Utilities Service and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 13
cooperatives in 9 states received funding for system designs that included fiber to the home,
middle mile, microwave and wireless technology. In addition, the Rural Broadband Loan
program at the Rural Utilities Service is enabling incremental progress toward bridging the
digital divide between rural and urban America.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is finalizing rules to implement Phase II of the
Connect America Fund, which will provide support to build out broadband in unserved areas of
the country. In 2014, over 100 electric cooperatives in 26 states filed Expressions of Interest in
the FCC’s Rural Broadband Experiments program and 23 filed formal applications for the
program. Eight electric cooperatives were provisional winners in the Rural Broadband
Experiment Program. In total, over 80 electric cooperatives across the country have built or are
currently building systems to bring needed broadband service to their service territories.
Last year, both the House and Senate launched bipartisan Broadband Caucus groups to facilitate
discussion, educate members of Congress and staff, and develop policy solutions to the digital
divide that exists in rural America. In January, these two groups sent letters to President Trump
urging him to include broadband in any infrastructure package that the administration brings to
NRECA Position. As Congress, the FCC and the administration develop proposals to spur
broadband deployment, we believe that all potential providers, including electric cooperatives,
should be eligible for programs designed to bridge the digital divide. We encourage the
administration and Congress to recognize the substantial need across the country and urge
leaders to authorize significant, additional funding for loans and grants, available to all viable
providers, to incentivize the further deployment of broadband in rural America. Further, reform
should affirm that regulation of Pole Attachment Rates for electric co-ops belongs at the state
and local co-op level.