Federal Task Force Gives Nod to Co-ops

A recent task force report commissioned by the White House outlines policy changes that would promote economic development in rural America, while noting the importance of e-connectivity and electric co-op efforts to facilitate it. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue unveiled the report Jan. 8 at the American Farm Bureau’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

The report sees robust and reliable e-connectivity is a critical ingredient for rural prosperity, including the deployment of smart grid technology throughout rural power systems.

“Rural electric cooperatives have begun deploying fiber optic networks throughout their service areas to meet the current, growing and future demand for smart grid services, such as demand-side management, distributed generation and renewable integration, and smart home technologies, as well as increased grid security,” the task force report said. “The ability to dynamically manage energy use is critical to ensuring network reliability, enhancing system-wide efficiency and keeping electric rates affordable for rural residents and businesses. The high-speed networks, connecting electric system infrastructure and even direct connections to customer locations, can also provide a platform and catalyst for fiber to rural homes.”

As of 2014, 39 percent of the rural population lacked access to broadband at speeds necessary for advanced telecommunications and data transfer capability, according to the report (see chart for comparison with urban and national populations).

Recommendations include:

  • Establish executive leadership to expand e-connectivity across rural America;
  • Assess the state of rural e-connectivity;
  • Reduce regulatory barriers to infrastructure deployment;
  • Assess the efficacy of current programs; and
  • Incentivize private capital investment.

At the Monday event, President Trump signed two related executive orders. One requires the Department of the Interior to ease access to towers and other infrastructure the department manages. The second calls for departments and agencies to reduce barriers to capital investment and government resources to enable rural broadband projects.

“I appreciate the president starting this important conversation, and I commend Secretary Perdue for his leadership of the task force,” NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said. “America’s electric cooperatives look forward to continuing the conversation and working together on technology and funding solutions that will enrich the lives of rural American families and businesses.”

The full task force report is available online from USDA.