Co-ops Seek Close of Digital Divide

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Electric Co-op Today, the predecessor of, on June 26, 2015.

Closing the “digital divide” is rising on electric cooperatives’ to-do list, but building broadband networks will require federal coordination and financial assistance.

That’s what NRECA told the Broadband Opportunity Council, a 25-agency initiative set up by President Obama to remove barriers and align funding decisions for broadband access nationwide.

“Electric cooperatives are stepping up to bridge the current technological divide—the digital divide,” said Martha Duggan, NRECA senior principal for regulatory affairs. “By being more inclusive with funding, the federal government stands a much higher chance of closing the digital divide.”

In comments filed with the council, NRECA said Washington should acknowledge the “dual purpose” co-ops serve by pursuing broadband. In addition to reliable electricity, co-ops often provide communication networks for homes and businesses in their service territory.

“Recognizing that the traditional incumbent carriers are not going to expand their services to all rural Americans makes it critical for the federal government to seek out and partner with non-traditional providers that have the success of rural communities as a goal,” Duggan said.

NRECA further urged the council to simplify coordination among the key players—the Department of Energy, the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration—and streamline financial aid to rural broadband projects.

The federal government should continue to deliver programs that financially support the expansion of broadband in rural areas such as those under the Rural Utilities Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Duggan said.

The FCC’s Rural Broadband Experiment program also should continue as “providing the desperately needed capital to communities that lack broadband service,” she said.

“Rural electric cooperatives are dedicated to improving the communities in which they serve,” Duggan said. “Providing broadband service to these communities helps reach that goal.”

The council requested and received public comment on how federal agencies can promote broadband deployment until June 10.

Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.