As the power provider for rural communities throughout North Carolina, our state’s electric cooperatives are working to expand 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. The necessity of these types of remote services has been underscored by the challenges arising from COVID-19.
Partnerships for Co-op Broadband Deployment
North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are working 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. In addition, as a secondary benefit, the same fiber network that enables these co-op operations can also be used to deliver high-speed internet.
In May 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law Senate Bill 310, entitled “Electric Co-op Rural Broadband Services,” which makes it easier for the state’s electric cooperatives to use their existing fiber network to provide broadband services and to form partnerships that will help serve rural areas that currently lack access to high-speed internet.
The bill makes key statutory changes that remove hurdles to electric co-op participation in broadband deployment including:
- Helping offset the up-front costs of providing broadband by modifying North Carolina statute to allow electric cooperatives to access federal funds, including U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Broadband funding, and providing greater flexibility to electric cooperatives when structuring partnership/lease terms with broadband partners and subsidiaries;
- Clarifying that it is permissible to use existing electric cooperative fiber deployed primarily for electrical purposes for the secondary purpose of providing broadband services; and
- Limiting electric cooperatives’ exposure to liability when they make dual-use of their fiber to provide broadband services.
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.