Co-op Cooperation in Rural North Carolina: RiverStreet Working with Electric Co-ops

In an effort to find ways to connect some of the state’s most disconnected communities, RiverStreet Networks and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives recently announced that they will work together for a series of pilot projects across the state. The initiative has the potential to discover new options for high-quality Internet access for residents and businesses in areas that have been left behind by national Internet service providers.

Going All Out 

North Carolina’s RiverStreet Networks is bent on bringing high-quality connectivity to people living and working in rural North Carolina. After expanding their physical infrastructure through deployment, the communications cooperative started to acquire other fiber networks in various areas across the state. Most recently, RiverStreet merged with TriCounty Telephone Membership Corporation

For RiverStreet, branching out among areas of the state were there is no high-speed Internet access is an opportunity to tap into an underserved market, not only an underserved population. It’s become obvious in recent years that rural communities want high-quality Internet access at least as fervently as in densely populated areas where big corporate ISP already have a monopoly. After upgrading their own members, RiverStreet was looking for growth; partnering with electric cooperatives is the next step to reaching more subscribers.

Listen to RiverStreet’s Greg Coltrain and Christopher discuss the merger and RiverStreet's plans to bring broadband to rural North Carolina:

Partners and Potential

Twenty-six electric cooperatives will be working with RiverStreet on pilot projects aimed to test out various models in mostly rural areas of the state. With infrastructure to approximately 2.5 million people, the partners will examine ways to deploy broadband with existing electric co-op infrastructure as part of the pilots. The partners want to implement smart technologies in addition to broadband access for better energy use:

“From a utility standpoint, broadband technologies benefit cooperative members by allowing them to better manage their home energy use, and they will make cooperative distribution systems more dynamic, flexible and efficient,” said Joe Brannan, chief executive officer of North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives. “Not only that, but this deployment could also bring economic development, education and healthcare opportunities – by leveraging existing assets – to the parts of our state in most critical need of such services.”

North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives reach 93 out of 100 of the state’s counties. Read more about how cooperatives are bringing fiber connectivity to areas left behind in our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet. With infrastructure, personnel, and knowledge already in place — especially when electric and communications cooperatives partner — rural communities have a realistic chance of enjoying Internet access equal to, or better than, that in urban areas.