As the power provider for rural communities throughout North Carolina, our state’s electric cooperatives are exploring solutions and facilitating the expansion of high-speed internet capability to unserved and underserved regions. Reliable, high-quality internet service is essential to bridging the urban/rural divide and providing access to education, business, economic development, telehealth and other opportunities that are critical to rural prosperity and quality of life.
While the pandemic has underscored the necessity of access statewide, the need to reach all areas of our state with high-speed internet has been a known priority for electric cooperatives for years. That’s why we are working with community partners to close the local digital divide in ways that are efficient and affordable, including providing timely access to utility poles to broadband providers at rate that reflects true costs and protects co-op members from new and unfair cost burdens.
Rural communities have long-awaited high-speed connections because for-profit cable providers have largely been unwilling to invest in broadband infrastructure in sparsely populated areas. Despite this, electric cooperatives have supported efforts to close the digital divide by exploring local solutions and facilitating expansion of access to broadband providers to utility poles quickly and at a fair rate.
Recently, due to a push from a Fortune 100 company that received federal funding, a bill has been filed in the North Carolina legislature that would shift costs to “make ready” utility poles for new broadband infrastructure to electric co-ops and their members. Should this bill pass, special interests would receive more funding for their shareholders at the expense of rural consumers – leading to higher electric rates for local electric co-op members and further burdening the very people who expanded broadband is intended to help.
This proposed policy is wrong. We must not move money from the pockets of rural people into those of Fortune 100 shareholders. Not-for-profit co-ops – and their members – should not be expected to subsidize broadband deployment costs, especially after more than $140 million in funding has been awarded to a for-profit cable provider for broadband expansion.
This policy also breaks precedent. In January, the Federal Communications Commission declined to issue the cost-shifting rules that the special interests seek, noting that the issue is complex and requires more thoughtful consideration.
It is in the best interest of rural people and communities to ensure that new broadband funding is applied as intended to cover expanded access, and that rural co-op members are not burdened with unfair costs.
As not-for-profit, community-owned organizations, electric cooperatives remain focused on keeping costs as low as possible for members and supporting efforts that bring opportunity and prosperity to our communities. Deploying broadband is no exception.
We look forward to seeing broadband access extend to unserved areas in North Carolina. We will continue to work with policy makers and those who are deploying broadband to ensure that access is expanded to our entire state, while advocating against policy changes that could burden rural consumers with unfair costs.
Partnerships for Co-op Broadband Deployment
North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are working in some areas to leverage their existing fiber network to provide broadband access to rural communities. This network already supports cooperative members by enabling new services for managing home energy use, and it helps make cooperative distribution systems more dynamic, flexible and efficient. As a secondary benefit, in some cases the same fiber network that enables these co-op operations can also be used to deliver high-speed internet.
Careful analysis will continue to be required when evaluating the cost feasibility of cooperative broadband services, and it is expected that interested co-ops will consider forming new partnerships to enable deployment.
Establishment of Wi-Fi Hot Spots
In response to COVID-19, electric cooperatives across the state have also established local Wi-Fi hot spots to ensure members in their communities have access to reliable internet service for remote learning, telemedicine and other online activities. Visit our Cooperatives Care page to learn more.