Expanding high-speed broadband access across rural North Carolina was the lead topic at Rural Day, presented this week in Raleigh by the NC Rural Center. North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives sponsored the segment on broadband. Other priority topics discussed throughout the day included health care access and small business development.
“Broadband internet access is critical to economic development in our rural areas,” Gov. Roy Cooper said during his opening remarks to the crowd of rural leaders and advocates from across the state. “We need meaningful investments to get last mile coverage and to stimulate private investment.”
Roanoke Electric Cooperative CEO and keynote speaker Curtis Wynn discussed the rural/urban divide in relation to high-speed broadband access, creating a gulf between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” “It is really worse than you think,” Wynn said.
He provided attendees with a snapshot of electric cooperatives and the types of territories they serve — as well as the industry transformation facing all electric utilities.
“While the state’s electric co-ops are similar in many ways, we’re all different. But we share the philosophy that although technology and connectivity enable this transformation, it’s the consumers who are driving it,” Wynn said. “The bottom line is that consumers want more options, and they’re going to get them one way or another. What is the one connecting piece of all of this to make this happen for the rural consumer? Broadband.”
Wynn stressed that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reliable broadband connectivity (defined as upload/download speeds of 25/3 Mbps), and that it will take exploring partnerships among private entities and leveraging existing assets to achieve further deployment at less cost.
Nelle Hotchkiss, senior vice president of Association Services for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, also addressed this concept in remarks to the crowd.
“We have a strong track record in North Carolina of investing in a powerful middle mile that has connected most of our anchor institutions, like schools, hospitals, libraries and local governments. We have a long way to go, though, in connecting that fiber backbone to the last mile.” Hotchkiss said. “North Carolina’s electric cooperatives support the efforts of all who want to provide meaningful broadband connectivity to rural consumers in North Carolina.”
To learn more about the NC Rural Center and its efforts to build vibrant rural communities, visit ncruralcenter.org.