Rural America Left Behind by Broadband?
In early October I attended the Fall Conference of the Wisconsin State Telephone Cooperative Association (WSTCA). This conference draws board directors and managers from the 11 telephone cooperatives that provide services in our state. Most of the cooperatives are located on the western side of Wisconsin and principally serve rural areas.
One conference speaker mentioned a startling August statistic from the Federal Telecommunications Commission (FCC) that 19 million Americans lack broadband Internet service and that 83 percent of those Americans live in rural areas. Many of these rural telecommunications consumers live in areas served by AT&T, Verizon, or other investor-owned telephone companies.
Unfortunately, history is a clear guide that investor-owned companies will most often serve rural consumers last because they are viewed as being less efficient to serve, given the distances between homes and farms. In addition, as noted by one speaker, company profits are often being “siphoned off for the benefit of stockholders rather than the consumer.”
By contrast, Wisconsin telephone cooperatives have been the first to provide rural broadband to their member-owners.
A number of farmers have told me they are unhappy they live outside of a telephone cooperative’s service territory because they have been told by their current telephone company that it will be years before they receive access to broadband Internet service. In addition, some of the FCC’s recent policies could be leading to the prioritization of urban broadband service over rural service. If this sounds like a familiar problem to you, it is because this same rural–urban divide led to the creation of rural electric cooperatives in the 1930s.
I have spoken directly to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, about this issue. He appears to fully understand this rural challenge and he is leading a working group with the FCC to help redress this critical imbalance. For rural America’s future, we can all hope that he is successful.
Dairyland Power Exceeds
It is notable that Dairyland Power Cooperative’s renewable energy portfolio of 12 percent of its electric sales substantially exceeds the state requirements that 10 percent of its power come from renewable sources—such as wind, hydro, animal waste-to-energy, biomass, and solar—by 2015. Dairyland is a state and regional renewable-energy leader and proves it is being responsive not only to the state, but to its member-owners who have requested renewable energy be an important part of Dairyland’s energy portfolio.