Decades after bringing electricity and telephone services to America’s rural households, cooperatives are tackling a new challenge: the rural digital divide. New updates to the Community Broadband Networks initiative’s report Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, originally published in 2017, illustrate the remarkable progress co-ops have made in deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country.
“Cooperatives should be the foundation for bringing high-quality Internet service to rural America… Small towns and farming communities need robust Internet service to support their local economies, educate themselves, and generally improve their quality of life. Cooperatives have quietly proved that they can build Fiber-to-the-Home networks that are capable of speeds of greater than 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps). More than 140 cooperatives offer gigabit service to residents or businesses.”
The report features new maps showing overall growth in areas served by co-ops, as well as expanded information about state legislation that supports co-op investment in broadband networks. A few important takeaways:
- More than 140 co-ops across the country now offer residential gigabit Internet access to their members, reaching more than 300 communities.
- Co-ops connect 70.8 percent of North Dakota and 47.7 percent of South Dakota landmass to fiber, and residents enjoy some of the fastest Internet access speeds in the nation.
- Georgia and Mississippi have overturned state laws banning co-ops from offering Internet access, and other states, including Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, and Texas, have implemented legislation that will further ease the way.
Co-ops have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect rural Americans to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them.