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Electric cooperatives illustrate the power that community-owned enterprises have to bring Internet access at scale to unconnected rural communities. Because of their work, states like Missouri (where 15 percent of all households only have access to broadband speeds slower than 100/20 Megabits per second, and only 38 percent have access to speeds of 100/100 Megabits per second or faster), will go from being among the least-connected states to one of those with the greatest connectivity in rural areas in coming years.
An infusion of federal funding shows how publicly owned infrastructure can go farther and move faster. Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) serves as example in Missouri, building on its existing broadband infrastructure to further increase connectivity in one of the most connected counties in the state.
Closing the Gap
Ralls County, located in the northeastern part of the state, is one of three statewide to provide fiber or wireless Internet access to over 90 percent of residents in its service territory. With $1.3 million in funding from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) now in hand, RCEC is extending broadband access outside of its electric service area.
RCEC’s initial fiber buildout began in 2010. By 2014, it was the first electric distribution cooperative in Missouri to have built fiber out to all 6,300 of its members. 70 percent of RCEC’s members currently subscribe to its fiber services. Through its wholly owned subsidiary, the cooperative offers five speed tiers. Speeds range from 50/10 Megabits per second for $50/month to 1 Gbps/15 Mbps for $100/month in select locations.
Reaching Beyond its Electric Membership Footprint
In Missouri, rural electric cooperatives are bringing high-quality connectivity to an increasing number of small towns where large corporate Internet access companies don't consider population density high enough to justify investment. A few years ago, we reported that Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) was connecting New London, their hometown. Now, RCEC is expanding their network into nearby Perry.
It Took A While, But It's Coming
In the small town of Perry (pop. 700) in northeastern Missouri, many businesses currently lack the Internet speeds they need to operate successfully. With the current speeds available, as Senior Vice President of HNB Bank Jeff Albus explained, customers at the bank often have to wait while the employees stare “at a spinning wheel on [their] screen.” In order to secure Internet speeds necessary for a future in the digital age, HNB Bank decided to take initiative and work with the town to approach RCEC about expanding their fiber network into Perry.
Efforts began in 2016. At the time, RCEC was deployng their $19 million project aimed at serving rural areas around the town of Perry but not in the city limits. HNB and community leaders floated a petition and the Mayor had signed a letter of support on behalf of the City Council. With only CenturyLink DSL and satellite coverage to choose from, businesses and residents needed more options.
The community is considered the Southern Gateway to the Mark Twain Lake, where more than 2 million tourists come to enjoy summer recreation. As we've learned from places such as Cook County, Minnesota, and Colorado ski communities, such as Estes Park, high-quality Internet access is an expectation that an increasing number of tourists expect no matter where they go to relax.
For more than a century, electric cooperatives have ensured rural communities’ electricity needs are met. Now, many electric co-ops have made strides to ensure their communities have access to today’s newest necessity, Internet service.
In northeastern Missouri, Ralls County Electric Cooperative is bringing high-speed Internet service to the small city of New London. Nearby, the city of Perry hopes the electric cooperative will extend the project to its residents and they've let the co-op know that they will welcome the service with open arms.
Ralls County Electric Cooperative
Ralls County Electric Cooperative is working on a pilot project in New London that will bring incredibly fast and reliable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the community's 1,000 residents. The project will offer triple-play services of Internet access, phone service, and high-definition TV.
The New London project won't be the first FTTH project for Ralls County Electric Cooperative. Between 2010 and 2015, the cooperative built a $19 million fiber network in the area. Funding came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in the form of half as a loan and half as a grant. The electric cooperative formed a subsidiary, known as Ralls Technologies, for its telecommunications projects.
The Herald-Whig of Quincy, Illinois (about 45 minutes from the Missouri towns), recently reported that officials in Perry are encouraging Ralls County Electric Cooperative to come to their town. They have started a petition to show support for bringing the project to their community.
Ralls County Electric Cooperative has not committed to extending the project to Perry, but the city’s Mayor Dustin Wasson has signed a letter of support on behalf of the City Council to the electric cooperative. Explaining the need, Mayor Wasson told the Herald-Whig: