Candy Crush. Netflix. Access to high-speed internet certainly offers a wealth of entertainment options. But for rural America, broadband can bring family businesses, education and healthcare on par with the world, an electric cooperative leader told Congress.
“For rural residents, high-speed broadband is not just about pastimes like Netflix; more importantly it’s about a chance at a better living,” said Christopher Allendorf, vice president of external relations and general counsel for Jo-Carroll Energy in Elizabeth, Illinois.
For that to happen, it is imperative that policymakers consider the scope of capital necessary to bring broadband to rural communities nationwide, he told members of the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade.
Allendorf urged lawmakers to provide more grant funding to make broadband deployment viable in rural areas. He encouraged the committee to consider deploying broadband akin to the mission of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to power remote parts of the country.
“The federal government created a strong, lasting partnership with rural cooperatives to accomplish that goal, resulting in the same high quality of life for all Americans,” he said in his June 22 testimony.
“Jo-Carroll has seen that broadband access is essential for the continued success and well-being of rural America. It is our hope that Congress and this administration will build upon this partnership with support for the no-less audacious goal of providing rural America with access to broadband service.”
Jo-Carroll first offered wireless broadband service in 2009 to meet the needs of members who lacked access or were limited to dial-up. The co-ops switched to “future-proof” fiber for communications for its SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) network and began offering members broadband through a fiber pilot program in 2016. Fiber easily integrated with the co-op’s existing overhead and underground infrastructure.
Allendorf grew up in the community served by the co-op in the northwest corner of the state and recalled for lawmakers how he didn’t experience the benefits of broadband until he went away to college.
With rural broadband “small businesses and farms are able to engage in commerce beyond their local area, which is a necessity in our global economy. Rural students have access to the same quality of education as their urban peers. It’s also critical for rural hospitals and clinics to provide modern patient care,” Allendorf said.
“As you consider proposals to spur broadband deployment we believe that all potential providers, including electric cooperatives, should be eligible to participate in an open and inclusive process to compete for funding opportunities.”
The co-op also told the subcommittee that it’s pleased that the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai created a Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee and appointed NRECA CEO Jim Matheson to a seat. The committee will make recommendations this year for spurring broadband deployment.
“Mr. Matheson will undoubtedly make sure that the voice of our consumer-owners in rural America is heard,” Allendorf said.
Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.