Bridging the digital divide in rural areas presents different variables than bringing electrical service to the underserved in the 1930s. This was the message Roanoke Electric Cooperative CEO Curtis Wynn brought to the Senate Democratic Rural Summit in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.
“When we started 80 years ago, we were investing in poles and wires and transformers that had a very long shelf life. We’ve got some of that equipment still on our systems,” Wynn said, representing the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) as board vice president. “With telecommunications, this is a completely different story. The shelf life for 5G – we don’t know if it’s going to be five years, three years, or what the case may be.”
At the summit, Senate Democrats joined national leaders from a variety of industries to discuss issues important to rural America, with an emphasis on boosting economic opportunity. Rural broadband access was a major topic of conversation.
“For any type of broadband investment, you’ve got to keep that in mind, and that’s a part of the equation that all of our systems are looking at,” Wynn told senators and others gathered for the Capitol Hill event. That hardly means broadband should be ignored; quite the opposite, said Wynn, noting it’s vital to running a modern electric utility.
“Broadband and cooperative operations are beginning to merge together,” he said. “To run a smart utility, you have to have access to broadband.”