NC Electric Co-ops Support Expanding Rural Broadband Access
Statewide broadband access is critical to the success of rural communitiesBy Lindsey Listrom
While the pandemic has shone a bright light on the need for broadband access in rural areas, the issue has been a known priority for electric cooperatives for many years. As community-focused organizations based in rural areas, cooperatives are committed to supporting efforts —including rural broadband connectivity— that provide students, businesses and families opportunities to compete and thrive.
“Statewide broadband access is critical to the success of rural communities and our state as a whole,” said Nelle Hotchkiss, senior vice president and COO of North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.
“We support broadband availability and affordability for all, and we are exploring solutions and working with partners to close the gaps in rural broadband access quickly, efficiently and at as low a cost as possible.”
“Statewide broadband access is critical to the success of rural communities and our state as a whole."
Solutions are underway. Several co-ops have formed partnerships with broadband providers to utilize grant funding, including the GREAT (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology) program from the NC Department of Information Technology.
Beyond these partnerships, cooperatives statewide are facilitating rural expansion by providing broadband companies with timely access to utility poles at a fair rate. These agreements help providers reach rural areas more quickly and protect electric co-op members from absorbing any costs incurred by the broadband provider to “make ready” co-op poles that need to be replaced or upfitted for broadband infrastructure.
As connectivity expands, and as significant federal and state funding for rural broadband is awarded to broadband providers, electric co-ops are engaging with state legislators regarding recently filed legislation that could shift “make ready” costs to cooperatives and their members.
Electric cooperatives oppose any policy that could create higher electric rates or increase the burden to the very rural citizens for whom broadband expansion funding has been provided to help.
“We look forward to seeing high-speed internet stretch to every rural corner of the state,” Hotchkiss said. “We will continue to work with policy makers and those who are deploying broadband to ensure that access rolls out quickly and efficiently, while advocating against possible policy changes that could burden rural consumers with unfair costs.”
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