Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era (Updated Dec. 2019)

H. Trostle
Katie Kienbaum
Michelle Andrews
Christopher Mitchell

Originally published in 2017, our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, focuses on cooperatives as a proven model for deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country, especially in rural areas. An update in the spring of 2019 included additional information about the rate at which co-ops are expanding Internet service. Now we’ve updated the report with a new map and personal stories from areas where co-ops have drastically impacted local life.

Download the updated report [PDF] here.

All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.

Some highlights from the third edition of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America include:

  • More than 110 rural electric co-ops have embarked on fiber optic projects to increase Internet access for their members, a number that is growing rapidly from just a handful in 2012.
  • 31.3 percent of the fiber service available in rural areas is provided by rural cooperatives.
  • Personal anecdotes from Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, and Missouri residents attest to the far-reaching benefits of cooperatives’ expansion into Internet service.
  • new map shows where rural cooperatives are planning to expand fiber Internet service.

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.

*We discovered an error in our first release of the December 2019 edition of this report, which we have since corrected. We deeply apologize for the mistake and take this very seriously -- these data are challenging to work with but we are committed to accurately reporting broadband statistics.

The correct statistic is that cooperatives provide 31 percent of all fiber service available in rural areas of the U.S.

This number is based on FCC Form 477 data from June 2018 and we think it may understate cooperative investment comparatively, as our research suggests cooperatives are more likely to offer fiber service to the entire region rather than parts of census blocks. Form 477 data are known to over-represent services from those who only serve some premises in a region, as it marks the entire block as served if one household can take service.  

Two other things to understand about that number: 

1. The electric co-ops that are building are not reflected in the June 2018 data and it will be several years before the data catches up.

2. Only 3.1 million people live within the historical boundaries of telephone cooperatives and yet 56 percent of them could receive fiber Internet access from their co-op. 

Read Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era [PDF] here.