Cooperatives Essential to Bringing High-Quality Fiber Internet Access to Rural America

Date: 19 May 2020 | posted in: MuniNetworks | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Every day, we hear stories about rural Americans  struggling with inadequate Internet access, from children forced to do homework in the nearest McDonald’s parking lot to families paying too much for slow, outdated network connections. The rural digital divide is very real, but there’s another story one of determined, hopeful communities that needs to be told.   

Cooperatives, which brought electricity and telephone services to rural households nearly a century ago, have been quietly connecting residents to another essential utility: high quality Internet access. An updated report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) illustrates the remarkable progress cooperatives have made in deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country. 

The latest update to “Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era” features updated maps that show areas already covered by cooperative fiber networks, areas where cooperative fiber networks expanded between June 2018 and June 2019, and areas where cooperatives are currently building out new infrastructure.

“For nearly 100 years, cooperatives have been the most successful model for connecting rural Americans to the utilities they need to keep their homes, businesses, farms and schools running,” said Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Now that large ISPs like AT&T and CenturyLink have made it clear they’re not interested in investing in rural networks, it’s time for policymakers to recognize that cooperatives should be the foundation of any strategy to bring high-speed Internet service to rural America.” 

A few important takeaways: 

  • More than 210 cooperatives across the country offer gigabit Internet access to residents and businesses.
  • 82% of North Dakota and 53% of South Dakota landmass is served by fiber from cooperatives, and residents enjoy some of the fastest Internet access speeds in the nation.
  • Since 2017, some states have eased restrictions on cooperative broadband networks, while others have gone even further by enacting legislation to facilitate the deployment of cooperative broadband networks.  
  • A series of local stories highlights how broadband has changed lives by improving access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities.  

Cooperatives have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect Americans in rural areas to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them. 

Read the full report here.

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Katie Kienbaum

Katie is a Researcher with ILSR's Energy Democracy initiative, where she researches and writes about equitable and decentralized clean energy and its impact on communities across the country. Before joining the Energy Democracy initiative, she was a Research Associate with the Community Broadband Networks initiative