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Minnesota Counties Help Fund Cooperative Broadband Projects for Economic Development
Even if a local government isn’t ready or able to build its own broadband network, there are still ways they can help bring the benefits of better connectivity to their community. Over the past few years, several counties in Minnesota have partnered with local electric and telephone cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access as an economic development strategy. In many instances, county governments have offered financial support to the local co-ops, in the form of grants and loans, to connect their rural residents with high-quality fiber networks, often supplementing federal subsidies or statewide Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development grants.
Projects Across the State
Minnesota counties have taken a variety of approaches when it comes to helping cooperatives finance broadband deployment projects.
Some, such as Cook County in the far northeastern corner of the state, provided grants to local co-ops. Cook County began its partnership with Arrowhead Electric Cooperative back in 2008 when both entities contributed to a broadband feasibility study. At the time, the county suffered from the worst connectivity in the state, and many people still relied on dial-up. In 2010, Arrowhead was awarded a $16.1 million combined grant and loan from the stimulus-funded Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) to build a fiber network in Cook County. The county government offered Arrowhead a $4 million grant for the project, funded by the voters’ reauthorization of a 1 percent sales tax that was due to expire. In return, Arrowhead agreed to provide services such as Internet access to county buildings at no cost.
Cooperatives Build Community Networks
Cooperatives around the country have built on their long legacy of delivering essential infrastructure by starting to deliver next-generation Internet services. Here, we cover the basics of cooperatives in rural areas and then discuss the details of electric and telephone cooperatives that have already branched out into Internet service. Finally, we highlight the first fiber optic cooperative provider, and discuss how other communities have better Internet service through building their own networks.
Read the full policy brief Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era on ILSR.org. View the archive for previous editions of the report.
View a larger version of the cooperative fiber map above, updated May 2020.
Why Rural Cooperatives?
Cooperatives are part of the fabric of rural America. The member owners control the cooperative: each person receiving service is a member of the cooperative and can directly vote in elections for the Board of Directors or even become a member of the Board.
Starting in the 1930s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture supported communities as they created more than 900 electric cooperatives across the country. In the 1950s, the federal government again supported communities building telephone networks, crisscrossing the country with telephone cooperatives to connect rural communities.
Each technology brought new markets, revitalized economies, and revolutionized industries. Cooperatives have a long history of building and maintaining essential infrastructure and providing excellent service in rural communities. Now they have the chance to do that again by building next-generation networks for Internet service.
Rural Public Policies
Rural areas face a number of challenges that urban and suburban communities do not. Low population density coupled with rough terrain can make building infrastructure challenging. Added to these factors, rural communities may not have access to the same financial resources as larger towns and cities do.
Cooperatives, however, have made infrastructure projects work in rural communities for nearly a century. They have access to funding from their membership base, local banks, and often the federal government. Some state governments have expanded their broadband grant and loan programs to include electric cooperatives. Other states have clarified laws and policies to recognize that electric cooperatives can build fiber networks for Internet service using their current infrastructure. A few states have even removed legislative hurdles that stymied investments by electric cooperatives. Technically, the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Section 253, prohibits states from stopping any co-op from offering Internet service, but co-ops in many states are loathe to challenge state law in court.
In 2019, the state removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from using USDA funding for non-electrical purposes, such as broadband networks. Our 2016 report, North Carolina Connectivity: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, highlighted how this roadblock kept the state’s electric co-ops from providing service to many rural communities.
During the 2017 legislative session, this state has clarified the language in its laws to allow electric cooperatives to build networks for Internet service.
Cooperatives already have access to utility poles, easements, and Rights-of-Way in the communities that they serve. Indiana, however, needed to clarify that electric co-ops can use this access to provide Internet service, so it passed the FIBRE Act. Other states, including Georgia, Maryland, and Texas, have since followed suit.
Minnesota & Colorado
Minnesota and Colorado have made funding easier to access for cooperatives interested in providing Internet service. Both states have designed grant programs that promote local solutions to connectivity problems. In Minnesota, cooperatives provide most of the Fiber-to-the-Home Internet service thanks in no small part to that grant program.
Overbuild Or Underbuild?
In Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 91, Christopher Mitchell and Lisa Gonzalez discusses strategies for building Internet infrastructure in rural are. What do communities need to thrive?
More than 900 rural electric cooperatives provide electricity to about 12 percent of the U.S. population. Their service area, however, covers more than half of the total land, nearly 2 million square miles. About 90 rural electric co-ops have embarked on fiber optic projects to increase Internet access for their members.
Several of these electric cooperatives started by building fiber optic lines to substations and large demand centers to increase the reliability of the electric system through better monitoring. This could then form the backbone of a network for Internet service to businesses and residents.
Articles and Interviews
We have written many articles and collected several reports detailing how electric cooperatives have tried to increase Internet access in their communities. These stories show the many different ways electric cooperatives have structured partnerships and programs for their members.
Several electric cooperatives provide Internet service themselves. Some started pilot projects, while others built out to their entire service area. The Fiber-to-the-Home project by Valley Electric Association boosted the local economy in Pahrump, Nevada. The co-op has already added 31 new jobs because of the fiber service.
Others partner with an existing telephone cooperative or telephone company. Ouachita Electric in Arkansas is one of the many cooperatives to have done this. By combining their resources and expertise, this partnership is able to extend electric and Internet service throughout much of southern Arkansas.
Many electric cooperatives work together, such as Sho-Me Power in Missouri and LS Networks in Oregon. These cooperatives have provided connectivity for local ISPs and businesses, and now are looking to connect residents.
In episode 229 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Jon Chambers, the former head of the FCC Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, describes how electric cooperatives have the potential to bring Internet access to unserved rural America.
Mel Coleman, president of NRECA and CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, joined the podcast in episode 243 to discuss how the electric co-op had improved Internet access for its members and what other cooperatives are doing.
List of Fiber Projects
This is a list of the rural electric cooperatives that have programs and projects to increase connectivity in their service areas. They do not all provide Fiber-to-the-Home. Some only offer fiber connections to businesses or provide wireless last mile connections while others focus on dark fiber and fiber transport services for other Internet Service Providers. (Total: 109) (Last updated: 12/2019)
|Central Alabama Electric Cooperative||Alabama||FTTH (announced)|
|Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corporation||Alabama||FTTH (announced)|
|North Alabama Electric Cooperative||Alabama||FTTH|
|Tombigbee Electric Cooperative (freedom FIBER)||Alabama||FTTH|
|Wiregrass Electric Cooperative||Alabama||Fiber backbone (under construction) — collaboration with cable company to connect members|
|Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative (WAVE Rural Connect)||Arkansas||FTTH|
|Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation (Empower)||Arkansas||FTTH|
|North Arkansas Electric Cooperative (NEXT)||Arkansas||FTTH|
|Ouachita Electric Cooperative (ARIS)||Arkansas||FTTH — collaboration with telephone company|
|Ozarks Electric Cooperative (OzarksGo)||Arkansas||FTTH|
|South Central Arkansas Electric Cooperative (South Central Connect)||Arkansas||FTTH|
|Anza Electric Cooperative (ConnectAnza)||California||FTTH|
|Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative (Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications)||California||FTTH & wireless with fiber backbone|
|San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (Ciello)||Colorado||FTTH|
|Delta-Montrose Electric Association (Elevate Fiber)||Colorado||FTTH|
|Southeast Colorado Power Association (SECOM)||Colorado||FTTH|
|Yampa Valley Electric Association (Luminate Broadband)||Colorado||FTTH|
|Blue Ridge Mountain EMC||Georgia &|
|Habersham Electric Membership Corporation (Trailwave; North Georgia Network Cooperative)||Georgia||FTTH; FTTB and Schools|
|Jefferson Energy Cooperative||Georgia||FTTB — collaboration with Pineland Telephone Cooperative|
|Illinois Electric Cooperative||Illinois||FTTH|
|Jo-Carrol Energy (Sand Prairie)||Illinois||FTTH & wireless with fiber backbone|
|Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (Jackson Connect)||Indiana||FTTH|
|Johnson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation||Indiana||FTTH — collaboration with NineStar Connect|
|NineStar Connect (merger between Central Indiana Power and Hancock Telecom)||Indiana||FTTH|
|Orange County Rural Electric Membership Corporation||Indiana||FTTH|
|South Central Indiana Rural Electric Membership Corporation||Indiana||FTTH|
|Tipmont Rural Electric Membership Corporation (Wintek)||Indiana||FTTH|
|Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative (AC Skyways)||Iowa||Wireless with fiber backbone|
|Maquoketa Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (MVLink)||Iowa||FTTH|
|Bulter Electric Cooperative (Velocity)||Kansas||FTTH|
|Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation||Kentucky||FTTH pilot projects (announced) — collaborations with North Central Telephone Company and Franklin Electric Power Board|
|Great Lakes Energy (Truestream)||Michigan||FTTH|
|Midwest Energy Cooperative (Midwest Energy and Communications)||Michigan||FTTH|
|Tri-County Electric Cooperative (HomeWorks Connect)||Michigan||FTTH|
|Arrowhead Electric Cooperative (True North Broadband)||Minnesota||FTTH|
|Meeker Cooperative Light and Power Association (Vibrant Broadband)||Minnesota||Wireless with fiber backbone — collaboration with Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company and Spring Grove Communications|
|MiEnergy Electric Cooperative||Minnesota||FTTH & wireless with fiber backbone|
|Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (XStream Internet)||Minnesota||FTTH — collaboration with telephone cooperative CTC|
|Roseau Electric Cooperative||Minnesota||FTTH (announced) — collaboration with local telephone company|
|Alcorn County Electric Power Association (ACE Fiber)||Mississippi||FTTH (announced)|
|Coast Electric Power Association (CoastConnect)||Mississippi||FTTH (announced)|
|Delta Electric Power Association||Mississippi||FTTH|
|Monroe County Electric Power Association (M-Pulse Fiber)||Mississippi||FTTH (announced)|
|Natchez Trace Electric Power Association (NT Spark)||Mississippi||FTTH|
|Northcentral Mississippi Electric Power Association (Northcentral Connect)||Mississippi||FTTH|
|Northeast Mississippi Electric Power Association (North East Fiber, LLC/NE SPARC)||Mississippi||FTTH|
|Pearl River Valley Electric Power Association (PearlComm Fiber)||Mississippi||FTTH (Announced)|
|Prentiss County Electric Power Association||Mississippi||FTTH (announced)|
|Singing River Electric Power Association (Singing River Connect)||Mississippi||FTTH (pilot)|
|Southern Pine Electric Power Association||Mississippi||FTTH|
|Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association (TVI-Fiber)||Mississippi||FTTH (announced)|
|Tippah Electric Power Association||Mississippi||FTTH (announced)|
|Tishomingo County Electric Power Association||Mississippi||FTTH|
|Tombigbee Electric Power Association||Mississippi||FTTH (announced)|
|Barry Electric Cooperative (goBEC)||Missouri||FTTH|
|Callaway Electric (Callabyte Technology)||Missouri||FTTH — collaboration with Kingdom Telephone Cooperative|
|Co-Mo Electric Cooperative (Co-Mo Connect)||Missouri||FTTH|
|Grundy Electric Cooperative (Mid-States Services)||Missouri||FTTH|
|Pemiscot Dunklin Electric Cooperative (Pemiscot Dunklin Fiber)||Missouri||FTTH|
|Ralls County Electric Cooperative (Ralls Technologies)||Missouri||FTTH|
|SEMO Electric Cooperative (GoSEMO Fiber)||Missouri||FTTH|
|United Electric Cooperative (United Fiber)||Missouri||FTTH|
|Crawford Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||FTTB & Transport Services|
|Gascoasage Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||FTTB & Transport Services|
|Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||FTTB & Transport Services|
|Intercounty Electric Cooperative Association / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||FTTB & Transport Services|
|Laclede Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||FTTB & Transport Services|
|Se-Ma-No Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||FTTB & Transport Services|
|Southwest Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||FTTB & Transport Services|
|Webster Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||FTTB & Transport Services|
|White River Valley Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||FTTB & Transport Services|
|Valley Electric Association (Valley Communications Association)||Nevada||FTTH|
|Continental Divide Electric Cooperative (Red Bolt Broadband)||New Mexico||FTTH|
|Kit Carson Electric Cooperative (Kit Carson Internet)||New Mexico||FTTH|
|Delaware County Electric Cooperative||New York||FTTH — collaboration with local telephone companies|
|Otsego Electric Cooperative (OEConnect)||New York||FTTH|
|French Broad Electric Membership Corporation||North Carolina||FTTH|
|Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation (Bluewave Communications NC)||North Carolina||FTTH — collaboration with Horry Telephone Cooperative|
|Roanoke Electric Cooperative (Roanoke Connect)||North Carolina||FTTH|
|Consolidated Electric Cooperative||Ohio||FTTH|
|East Central Oklahoma Cooperative (ecoLINK)||Oklahoma||FTTH (under construction)|
|Lake Region Electric Cooperative (Lake Region Technology & Communications)||Oklahoma||FTTH|
|Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (Bolt Fiber Optic Services)||Oklahoma||FTTH|
|Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC Fiber)||Oklahoma||FTTH|
|Consumers Power (Peak Internet)||Oregon||FTTP (open access network) — collaboration with Pioneer Consolidated and Stayton Cooperative Telephone Company|
|Central Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)||Oregon||FTTB, Schools, & Transport Services|
|Douglas Electric Cooperative (Douglas Fast Net; LS Networks)||Oregon||FTTH; FTTB, Schools, & Transport Services|
|Hood River Electric Cooperative (CACHE Communications; LS Networks)||Oregon||FTTH; FTTB, Schools, & Transport Services|
|Umatilla Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)||Oregon||FTTB, Schools, & Transport Services|
|West Oregon Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)||Oregon||FTTB, Schools, & Transport Services|
|Sullivan County Rural Electric Cooperative||Pennsylvania||FTTH (announced)|
|Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative||Pennsylvania||FTTH (announced)|
|Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative (Carolina Connect)||South Carolina||FTTH|
|Newberry Electric Cooperative (Carolina Connect)||South Carolina||FTTH — collaboration with Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative|
|Appalachian Electric Cooperative||Tennessee||FTTH|
|Cumberland Electric Membership Cooperative (Cumberland Connect)||Tennessee||FTTH (announced)|
|Forked Deer Electric Cooperative (Forked Deer Connect)||Tennessee||FTTH|
|Gibson Electric Membership Corporation (Gibson Connect)||Tennessee||FTTH|
|Holston Electric Cooperative (Holston Connect)||Tennessee||FTTH|
|Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative (MLConnect)||Tennessee||FTTH|
|Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEConnect)||Tennessee||FTTH|
|Tri-County Electric Cooperative||Tennessee||FTTH|
|Volunteer Electric Cooperative (Twin Lakes, powered by VEC)||Tennessee||FTTH — collaboratin with Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative|
|Bandera Electric Cooperative (BEC Fiber)||Texas||FTTH|
|Grayson Collin Electric Cooperative (Grayson Collin Communications)||Texas||FTTH|
|Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative||Texas||FTTH|
|Jackson Electric Cooperative (MyJEC.net)||Texas||FTTH & wireless with fiber backbone|
|Taylor Electric Cooperative (Access Fiber)||Texas||FTTH|
|Victoria Electric Cooperative (Infinium)||Texas||FTTH & wireless with fiber backbone|
|BARC Electric Cooperative (BARC Connects)||Virginia||FTTH|
|Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (Firefly Broadband)||Virginia||FTTH|
|Craig-Botetourt Electric Cooperative||Virginia||FTTH (announced)|
|Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (EMPOWER Broadband)||Virginia||FTTH|
|Prince George Electric Cooperative (Ruralband)||Virginia||FTTH|
|Columbia Rural Electric Association (Columbia iConnect)||Washington||FTTH Pilot Project|
|Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (Rock Island Communications)||Washington||FTTH|
|Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative (Ntera)||Wisconsin||FTTH — collaboration with telephone cooperative Citizens Connected|
There are about 260 telephone cooperatives in the United States. Many provide Internet service as a natural extension of their existing infrastructure. Many started out by providing dial-up and DSL services, but only recently have begun to transition to Fiber-to-the-Home. Some have already transitioned to an all-fiber network, having upgraded everyone in their territory to fiber.
The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) has a gigabit certification program in order to draw attention to how many small telephone companies cooperatives have built these next-generation networks.
Articles & Interviews
We have featured a number of these cooperatives on our website. Some cooperatives choose to work with local governments or electric cooperatives while others focus on providing service alone. Below is just a small selection of the many cooperatives that have built Fiber-to-the-Home networks.
In Michigan, a rural telephone cooperative got its start in the early 2000s. The community went from sparse telephone service to state-of-the-art Internet service. Read more about Allband Communications Cooperatives unique story here.
Paul Bunyan Communications Cooperative in Minnesota has expanded their GigaZone throughout the northern half of the state, including Red Lake Nation.
In Missouri, Callaway Electric Cooperative and Kingdom Telephone Company (the local telephone co-op) teamed up to form a new company together called Callabyte Technology to deliver Fiber-to-the-Home service.
Episode 188 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast features Eric Cramer, the President and CEO of Wilkes Communications/RiverStreet Networks. He explained how the telephone cooperative has built a Fiber-to-the-Home network throughout several counties in northern North Carolina.
The First Internet Cooperative
Cooperatives are not just telephone and electric. There is now a workable model for Internet cooperatives created from scratch. RS Fiber in Minnesota is the first cooperative formed for the express purpose of providing reliable, high-speed Internet service.
We have extensive coverage of how RS Fiber started and the rural communities they have connected. Read more in our report RS Fiber Fertile Fields: New Rural Internet Cooperative.
List of Gigabit Cooperatives
These cooperatives offer gigabit speeds to residents and/or businesses within their service areas. (Total: 210) (Last updated: 12/2019)
|3 Rivers Communications||Montana||Telephone|
|Ace Telephone Association (Ace Communications or AcenTek)||Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa||Telephone|
|Adams Telephone Cooperative||Illinois||Telephone|
|Albany Mutual Telephone Association||Minnesota||Telephone|
|Appalachian Electric Cooperative||Tennessee||Electric|
|Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative (WAVE Rural Connect)||Arkansas||Electric|
|Arthur Mutual Telephone Company||Ohio||Telephone|
|Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation||North Carolina||Telephone|
|Ballard Rural Telephone Cooperative Corporation (Bringing Technology Closer)||Kentucky||Telephone|
|Bandera Electric Cooperative (BEC Fiber)||Texas||Electric|
|BARC Electric Cooperative (BARC Connects)||Virginia||Electric|
|Barry Electric Cooperative (goBEC)||Missouri||Electric|
|BEK Communications Cooperative (BEK Lightband)||North Dakota||Telephone|
|Ben Lomand Rural Telephone Cooperative (Ben Lomand Connect)||Tennesseee||Telephone|
|Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative||Tennesseee||Telephone|
|Blue Valley Telecommunications||Kansas||Telephone|
|Bulloch Telephone Cooperative||Georgia||Telephone|
|Callaway Electric Cooperative (Callabyte Technology) — collaboration with Kingdom Telephone Cooperative||Missouri||Electric and telephone|
|Canby Telephone Association (DirectLink)||Oregon||Telephone|
|Central Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)||Oregon||Electric|
|Central Texas Telephone Cooperative||Texas||Telephone|
|Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (Firefly Broadband)||Virginia||Electric|
|Chariton Valley Telephone Corporation||Missouri||Telephone|
|Chequamegon Communications Cooperative (Norvado)||Wisconsin||Telephone|
|Chibardun Telephone Cooperative (Mosaic Telecom)||Wisconsin||Telephone|
|Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative (Ntera) — collaboration with telephone cooperative Citizens Connected||Wisconsin||Electric and Telephone|
|Citizens Mutual Telephone Cooperative||Iowa||Telephone|
|Citizens Telephone Cooperative||Virginia||Telephone|
|Citizens Telephone Cooperative||Wisconsin||Telephone|
|Clay County Rural Telephone Cooperative (Endeavor Communications)||Indiana||Telephone|
|Co-Mo Electric Cooperative (Co-Mo Connect)||Missouri||Electric|
|Cochrane Cooperative Telephone Company||Wisconsin||Telephone|
|Columbia Rural Electric Association (Columbia iConnect)||Washington||Electric|
|Columbus Telephone (Optic Communications)||Kansas||Telephone|
|Consolidated Electric Cooperative||Ohio||Electric|
|Consolidated Telcom||North Dakota||Telephone|
|Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC)||Minnesota||Telephone|
|Cooperative Telephone Exchange||Iowa||Telephone|
|Copper Valley Telephone Cooperative (Copper Valley Telecom)||Alaska||Telephone|
|Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation (Empower)||Arkansas||Electric|
|Craw Kan Telephone Cooperative||Kansas||Telephone|
|Crawford Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||Electric|
|Custer Telephone Cooperative, Inc.||Idaho||Telephone|
|Dakota Central Telecommunications||North Dakota||Telephone|
|Danville Mutual Telephone Company (i-connect you)||Iowa||Telephone|
|Daviess-Martin Rural Telephone Corporation (RTC Communications)||Indiana||Telephone|
|DeKalb Telephone Cooperative, Inc||Tennessee||Telephone|
|Delaware County Electric Cooperative||New York||Electric|
|Delta-Montrose Electric Association (Elevate Fiber)||Colorado||Electric|
|Dickey Rural Telephone Cooperative||North Dakota||Telephone|
|Douglas Electric Cooperative (Douglas Fast Net; LS Networks)||Oregon||Electric|
|Eastern New Mexico Rural Telephone Cooperative (Plateau Telecommunications)||New Mexico||Telephone|
|Eastern Oregon Telecom||Oregon||Telephone|
|Ellsworth Cooperative Telephone Association||Iowa||Telephone|
|Emily Cooperative Telephone Company||Minnesota||Telephone|
|Farmers Mutual Cooperative Telephone Company||Iowa||Telephone|
|Farmers Mutual Telephone Company||Iowa||Telephone|
|Farmers Mutual Telephone Company (Acira — partnership with Federated Telephone Cooperative)||Minnesota||Telephone|
|Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative||Alabama||Telephone|
|Farmers Telephone Cooperative||South Carolina||Telephone|
|Federated Telephone Cooperative (Acira — partnership with Farmers Mutual Telephone Company)||Minnesota||Telephone|
|Foothills Telephone Cooperative (Foothills Communications)||Kentucky||Telephone|
|Forked Deer Electric Cooperative (Forked Deer Connect)||Tennessee||Electric|
|French Broad Electric Membership Corporation||North Carolina||Electric|
|Garden Valley Telephone Company (Garden Valley Technologies)||Minnesota||Telephone|
|Gascoasage Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||Electric|
|Gervais Telephone Company (DataVision Cooperative)||Oregon||Telephone|
|Gibson Electric Membership Corporation (Gibson Connect)||Tennessee||Electric|
|Golden Belt Telephone Association||Kansas||Telephone|
|Grand River Mutual Telephone Corporation (GRM Networks)||Missouri||Telephone|
|Grayson Collin Electric Cooperative (Grayson Collin Communications)||Texas||Electric|
|Great Lakes Energy (Truestream)||Mississippi||Electric|
|Griswold Cooperative Telephone Company (Griswold Communications)||Iowa||Telephone|
|Grundy Electric Cooperative (Mid-States Services)||Missouri||Electric|
|Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative||Texas||Electric|
|Guadalupe Valley Telephone Cooperative||Texas||Telephone|
|Habersham Electric Membership Corporation (Trailwave; North Georgia Network Cooperative)||Georgia||Electric|
|Halstad Telephone Company||Minnesota||Telephone|
|Highland Telephone Cooperative||Tennessee||Telephone|
|Hill Country Telephone Cooperative||Texas||Telephone|
|Holston Electric Cooperative (Holston Connect)||Tennessee||Electric|
|Hood River Electric Cooperative (CACHE Communications; LS Networks)||Oregon||Electric|
|Horry Telephone Cooperative||South Carolina||Telephone|
|Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||Electric|
|Huxley Communications Cooperative||Iowa||Telephone|
|Intercounty Electric Cooperative Association / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||Electric|
|Jackson County Rural Elctric Membership Corporation (Jackson Connect)||Indiana||Electric|
|Jefferson Energy Cooperative — collaboration with Pineland Telephone Cooperative||Georgia||Electric and Telephone|
|Jo-Carrol Energy (Sand Prairie)||Illinois||Electric|
|Johnson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation — collaboration with NineStar Connect||Indiana||Electric and telephone|
|Kalona Cooperative Technology Company||Iowa||Telephone|
|Kingdom Telephone Company||Missouri||Telephone|
|Laclede Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||Electric|
|Lake Region Electric Cooperative (Lake Region Technology & Communications)||Oklahoma||Electric|
|LaValle Telephone Cooperative||Wisconsin||Telephone|
|Leaco Rural Telephone Cooperative||New Mexico||Telephone|
|Lehigh Valley Cooperative Telephone Association||Iowa||Telephone|
|Logan Telephone Cooperative||Kentucky||Telephone|
|Maquoketa Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (MVLink)||Iowa||Electric|
|Marquette-Adams Telephone Cooperative||Wisconsin||Telephone|
|Matanuska Telephone Association||Alaska||Telephone|
|Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (EMPOWER Broadband)||Virginia||Electric|
|Meriweather Lewis Electric Cooperative (MLConnect)||Tennessee||Electric|
|Mid Century Telephone Cooperative (Mid Century Communications)||Illinois||Telephone|
|Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative (Carolina Connect)||South Carolina||Electric|
|Mid-Rivers Telephone Cooperative (Mid-Rivers Communications)||Montana||Telephone|
|Midstate Communications||South Dakota||Telephone|
|Midwest Energy Cooperative (Midwest Energy and Communications)||Michigan||Electric|
|Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (XStream Internet) — collaboration with CTC||Minnesota||Electric and telephone|
|Molalla Telephone Company (Molalla Communications)||Oregon||Telephone|
|Mountain Rural Telephone Cooperative Corporation||Kentucky||Telephone|
|Nelson Communications Cooperative (Ntec)||Wisconsin||Telephone|
|Nemont Telephone Cooperative||Montana||Telephone|
|New Hope Telephone Cooperative||Alabama||Telephone|
|New Lisbon Telephone Company||Indiana||Telephone|
|Newberry Electric Cooperative (Carolina Connect)||South Carolina||Electric|
|NineStar Connect (merger between Central Indiana Power and Hancock Telecom)||Indiana||Electric and telephone|
|North Alabama Electric Cooperative||Alabama||Electric|
|North Arkansas Electric Cooperative (NEXT)||Arkansas||Electric|
|North Central Telephone Cooperative||Tennessee and Kentucky||Telephone|
|North Dakota Telephone Company||North Dakota||Telephone|
|Northeast Nebraska Telephone Company||Nebraska||Telephone|
|Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (Bolt Fiber Optic Services)||Oklahoma||Electric|
|Northwest Communications Cooperative||North Dakota||Telephone|
|Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC Fiber)||Oklahoma||Electric|
|Orange County Rural Electric Membership Corporation||Indiana||Electric|
|Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (Rock Island Communications)||Washington||Electric|
|Otsego Electric Cooperative (OEConnect)||New York||Electric|
|Ouachita Electric Cooperative (ARIS)||Arkansas||Electric|
|Ozarks Electric Cooperative (OzarksGo)||Arkansas||Electric|
|Palmetto Rural Telephone Company||South Carolina||Telephone|
|Panhandle Telephone Cooperative, Inc.||Oklahoma||Telephone|
|Panora Communications Cooperative||Iowa||Telephone|
|Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Cooperative||Minnesota||Telephone|
|Peak Internet (partnership between Pioneer Consolidated, Consumers Power, and Stayton Cooperative Telephone Company)||Oregon||Electric and telephone|
|Pemiscot Dunklin Electric Cooperative||Missouri||Electric|
|Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative||Kentucky||Telephone|
|Perry-Spencer Rural Telephone Cooperative (Perry-Spencer Communications)||Indiana||Telephone|
|Phillips County Telephone Company (PC Telcom)||Colorado||Telephone|
|Pineland Telephone Cooperative||Georgia||Telephone|
|Pioneer Telephone Cooperative||Oklahoma||Telephone|
|Plains Cooperative Telephone Association||Colorado||Telephone|
|Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative (Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications)||California||Electric|
|Polar Communications Mutual Aid Corporation||North Dakota||Telephone|
|Prince George Electric Cooperative (Ruralband)||Virginia||Electric|
|Rainbow Telecommunications Association (Rainbow Communications)||Kansas||Telephone|
|Ralls County Electric Cooperative (Ralls Technologies)||Missouri||Electric|
|Randolph Telephone Membership Corporation (Randoph Communications)||North Carolina||Telephone|
|Range Telephone Cooperative (RT Communications)||Montana, Wyoming||Telephone|
|Red River Rural Telephone Association||North Dakota||Telephone|
|Reservation Telephone Cooperative||North Dakota||Telephone|
|Richland-Grant Telephone Cooperative||Wisconsin||Telephone|
|Runestone Telecom Association||Minnesota||Telephone|
|Rural Telephone Service Cooperative (Nex-Tech)||Kansas||Telephone|
|San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (Ciello)||Colorado||Electric|
|Scio Mutual Telephone Association||Oregon||Telephone|
|Se-Ma-No Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||Electric|
|SEMO Electric Cooperative (GoSEMO Fiber)||Missouri||Electric|
|Sequatchee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEConnect)||Tennessee||Electric|
|Sherwood Mutual Telephone Association||Ohio||Telephone|
|Skyline Telephone Membership Corporation (SkyBest Communications)||North Carolina||Telephone|
|South Central Arkansas Electric Cooperative (South Central Connect)||Arkansas||Electric|
|South Central Indiana Rural Electric Membership Corporation||Indiana||Electric|
|South Central Rural Telephone Cooperative||Kentucky||Telephone|
|South Central Utah Telephone Association (South Central Communications)||Utah||Telephone|
|South Slope Cooperative Communications||Iowa||Telephone|
|Southeast Colorado Power Association (SECOM)||Colorado||Electric|
|Southwest Arkansas Telephone Cooperative||Arkansas||Telephone|
|Southwest Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||Electric|
|SRT Communications||North Dakota||Telephone|
|Star Telephone Membership Corporation (Star Communications)||North Carolina||Telephone|
|Surry Communications Membership Cooperation||North Carolina||Telephone|
|Taylor Electric Cooperative (Access Fiber)||Texas||Electric|
|The Ottoville Mutual Telephone Company||Ohio||Telephone|
|Tipmont Rural Electric Membership Corporation (Wintek)||Indiana||Electric|
|Tombigbee Electric Cooperative (freedom FIBER)||Alabama||Electric|
|Tri-County Communications Cooperative||Wisconsin||Electric|
|Tri-County Electric Cooperative||Tennessee||Electric|
|Tri-County Electric Cooperative (HomeWorks Connect)||Michigan||Electric|
|Tri-County Telephone Association||Kansas||Electric|
|Tri-County Telephone Membership Corporation (RiverStreet Networks)||North Carolina||Telephone|
|Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative Corporation||Tennessee||Telephone|
|UBTA-UBET Communications, also known as Strata Networks||Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming||Telephone|
|Umatilla Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)||Oregon||Electric|
|United Electric Cooperative (United Fiber)||Missouri||Electric|
|United Telephone Mutual Aid Corporation (Turtle Mountain Communications)||North Dakota||Telephone|
|Valley Electric Association (Valley Communications Association)||Nevada||Electric|
|Valley Telecommunications||South Dakota||Telephone|
|Venture Communications Cooperative||South Dakota||Telephone|
|Vernon Communications Cooperative||Wisconsin||Telephone|
|Victoria Electric Cooperative (Infinium)||Texas||Electric|
|Volunteer Electric Cooperative (Twin Lakes, powered by VEC)||Tennessee||Electric and telephone|
|Wabash Communications Cooperative||Illinois||Telephone|
|Wabash Mutual Telephone Company||Ohio||Telephone|
|Washington County Rural Telephone Cooperative (Tele-media Solutions)||Indiana||Telephone|
|Webster Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||Electric|
|Webster-Calhoun Cooperative Telephone Association||Iowa||Telephone|
|West Carolina Rural Telephone Cooperative (West Carolina Tel)||South Carolina||Telephone|
|West Central Telephone Association||Minnesota||Telephone|
|West Kentucky and Tennessee Communications Cooperative||Kentucky, Tennessee||Telephone|
|West Oregon Electric Cooperative (LS Networks)||Oregon||Electric|
|West River Telecommunications Cooperative||North Dakota and South Dakota||Telephone|
|West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative (24-7 Telcom)||Wisconsin||Telephone|
|White River Valley Electric Cooperative / Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative (Sho-Me Technologies)||Missouri||Electric|
|Wiggins Telephone Association (Blue Lightning)||Colorado||Telephone|
|Wilkes Telephone Membership Corporation (RiverStreet Networks)||North Carolina||Telephone|
|Yampa Valley Electric Association (Luminate Broadband)||Colorado||Electric|
|Yucca Telecommunications Systems||New Mexico||Telephone|
Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episodes
Listen to our collection of Community Broadband Bits Podcasts to learn firsthand about how electric cooperatives have made the decision to provide Internet service.
|Tri-County Rural Electric Delivering Connectivity, Expanding Partnerships, in Appalachians||Co-op finds funding, partners to build broadband network demanded by members||Craig Eccher||Transcript 383|
|South Dakota Fiber All About the Local||Co-ops, cities, locally-owned companies, and tribal ISPs invest in rural South Dakota||Greg Dean||Transcript 369|
|Firefly Fiber All the Buzz in Central Virginia||Central Virginia Electric Co-op's new fiber project and how members are embracing better connectivity||Melissa Gay and Gary Wood||Transcript 358|
|Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative Steps Up, Offers FTTH in Missouri's Bootheel||Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative's FTTH project in rural Missouri and how the environment impacted network design||Jack Davis||Transcript 344|
|RiverStreet Networks Reaching Across Rural North Carolina||Co-op partners with other co-ops and communities to connect rural N.C.||Greg Coltrain||Transcript 342|
|Great Lakes Energy's Big Plan for Big Fiber||Largest electric co-op in Michigan is deploying a FTTH network||Shari Culver||Transcript 324|
|Analyzing the Auction With Jonathan Chambers||Results of the Connect America Fund Phase II auction, including a strong showing by electric co-ops||Jonathan Chambers||Transcript 321|
|DMEA Co-op Serving Up Broadband and Innovation in Colorado||The Delta Montrose Electric Association fiber deployment in Colorado||John Gavan and Brad Harding||Transcript 314|
|North Dakota's Exceptional Fiber Networks||North Dakota has low population density, but many fiber cooperatives||Robin Anderson||Transcript 288|
|Kit Carson Fibers up New Mexico||Electric Cooperative builds fiber network in rural New Mexico||Luis Reyes||Transcript 277|
|Allband All-in For Rural Michigan Internet Access||Folks build a cooperative from scratch in rural Michigan||Ron Siegel||Transcript 276|
|Rural Electric Co-ops as Reluctant Warriors for Broadband||The challenges and decisions that rural electric cooperatives face||Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts||Transcript 249|
|What's NEXT in North Arkansas?||North Arkansas Electric Cooperative's pilot project for high-speed Internet service||Mel Coleman||Transcript 243|
|United Fiber Tackles Missouri's Most Rural||The demand for better, faster connections and the role of rural electric cooperatives||Darren Farnan||Transcript 240|
|Rural Electrics Solve Rural Internet Access Problems||Former head of FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis on politics and rural connectivity||Jon Chambers||Transcript 229|
|Midwest Energy Cooperative Connects Rural Michigan||A rural electric cooperative provides fiber connectivity||Bob Hance and Dave Allen||Transcript 225|
|H.R. Trostle on Co-Ops, Munis, Connectivity in North Carolina||ILSR Research Associate discusses North Carolina and Internet access||H.R. Trostle||Transcript 224|
|Tennessee Potential Partnership Between Morristown Muni and AEC Co-op||Morristown Tennessee, and the local electric co-op are teaming up to deliver needed services||Jody Wigington and Greg Williams||Transcript 203|
|A New Cooperative Model for Fiber to the Farm||The RS Fiber Cooperative steals the spotlight with its new cooperative model||Mark Erickson and Jake Rieke||Transcript 198|
|North Carolina Co-op Fibers Up Rural Counties and More||What does it take for a telephone co-op in North Carolina to provide FTTH? President and CEO of Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks explains||Eric Cramer||Transcript 188|
|Rural Electric Co-Mo Co-op Goes Gig||Discussion on how Co-Mo electric co-op in rural Missouri structured broadband network and its objective to enter the business and results||Randy Klindt||Transcript 140|
|Catching Up with the RS Fiber Co-op in Minnesota||Update on the RS Fiber Co-op project in Minnesota||Mark Erickson and Cindy Gerholz||Transcript 99|
|Understanding the Georgia Communications Cooperative||Discussion on how cooperatives work together and expand the regional network in Georgia and challenges to connect rural premises with fiber optics||Mike Foor||Transcript 92|
|North Georgia Network Brings Gig to Schools, Jobs to Region||The origin of the North Georgia Network and its economic and social impact on the region||Paul Belk||Transcript 46|
Rural Barn Flag, woodleywonderworks, Creative Commons license
Minnesota House Chamber, Chris Gaukel, Creative Commons license
Lac qui Parle Video: "Come For The Jobs, Stay For The Lifestyle"
Lac qui Parle County in western Minnesota has some of the best connectivity in the state. As part of the county’s efforts to get the word out about opportunities in the region, their new Facebook video highlights access to great Internet access and hopes to draw more citizens to the region.
"Come for the Jobs. Stay for the Lifestyle"
Pam Ellison, Economic Development Director for the County, describes the network that is available across the county to businesses and residents. High-quality Internet access is a way to retain businesses, attract new endeavors, and entice people to fill new positions.
Back in 2009, the county began working with Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative to find a way to improve Internet access. Through their collaboration, the two entities received a 2010 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity and replace antiquated dial-up. At the time, about 52 percent of premises were still using their telephones to connect to the Internet.
Lac qui Parle had approached incumbent providers, but none were interested in upgrading in the sparsely populated region. Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative had deployed in other communities in western Minnesota and had the experience required in such a rural area. The project’s $9.6 million ARRA combined grant and loan allowed the project to be completed by the summer of 2014. Read more details about the network and the story in Lac qui Parle County in our 2014 report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.
Check out Lac qui Parle County’s video:
Another Coop Story: Wiatel Wires Western Iowa
Iowa, known across the country for its agriculture, is known in other circles for its exciting community broadband projects. Earlier this year President Obama visited Cedar Falls to praise its municipal network and to support other efforts to improve rural high-speed Internet access. One of those efforts is Wiatel. This small telecommunications coop is beginning a $25 million project to upgrade its network from copper to fiber throughout its entire service area.
The cooper network that Wiatel uses now is sufficient for basic phone service, but upgrading to fiber will future-proof the network and provide better Internet speeds. The coop is based out of Lawton, a small town of about 1,000 people, but the coop serves an area of 700 miles. Wiatel hopes to start burying the fiber cables in the summer of 2016. Once the project gets started, officials from the cooperative estimate they will connect all residential and business customers to fiber within 24-30 months.
Wiatel is part of a long-growing movement as rural coops build fiber networks or upgrade to fiber to improve services for members. Just check out the Triangle Communications coop in Montana, the Paul Bunyan Communications coop in Minnesota, or Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative in Alabama. They’re providing next-generation connectivity at reasonable prices to rural communities often ignored by the large incumbent telephone and cable companies.
Coops: An Alternative
USDA Broadband Funding for Rural Projects; Coops On Top
This past July the USDA announced over $85 million in funding for rural broadband projects across seven states. The projects, many awarded to rural cooperatives, aim to bridge the digital divide and expand economic opportunities. For those interested in federal funding opportunities, NTIA has just released this guide [pdf].
Rural areas are often passed over by big telcos because they are considered less profitable. Farming, however, is a high-tech industry, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes that Internet access is as necessary as electricity in rural areas:
"Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America's future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago. ... Improved connectivity means these communities can offer robust business services, expand access to health care and improve the quality of education in their schools, creating a sustainable and dynamic future those who live and work in rural America."
The USDA has awarded more than $77 million in Community Connect Grants for rural broadband projects (since 2009). This July, the USDA loaned $74.8 million and awarded another $11 million in Community Connect Grants. Here is the current round-up of the USDA’s most recent loans and grants:
Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative Inc. will connect Point Hope subscribers and prepare for an undersea fiber line with a $1.4 million grant.
Garden Valley Telephone, one of the largest coops in Minnesota, will continue to expand its FTTH service area with a $12.63 million loan. On average, the coop serves two households per square mile.
Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Awards Announced
The Minnesota Office of Broadband Development recently announced the recipients of the Border to Border Broadband grants, funding established by the state legislature in 2014 to facilitate rural broadband projects. Seventeen public and private entities will share a total of $19.4 million in Greater Minnesota.
According the the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) press release, the projects will help bring better connectivity to 6,095 households, 83 community institutions, and 150 businesses in areas of the state considered unserved or underserved. This funding pays for up to 50 percent of the cost of each project.
The need in rural areas of the state is intense; 40 projects submitted applications for a total of $44.2 million in requests. Among the recipients are some familiar projects.
RS Fiber Cooperative is awarded $1 million for its FTTH project in Renville County and and parts of Sibley County. We wrote a case study on the RS Fiber project in our report All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access. According to the press release:
Total project costs are $3.32 million; the remaining $2.32 million (70 percent local match) will be provided by a line of credit that R-S Fiber Telcom has committed and partner equity. This project is part of a larger cooperative project estimated at $38.46 million that will upgrade broadband services to several thousand locations in the region. Hiawatha Broadband Communications will provide operational capacity.
Federated Telephone, sister cooperative to Farmers Mutual Cooperative will also receive an award for a project in Big Stone County:
All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access
Update: Read an updated version of this report, published in July 2021, here, titled Minnesota Broadband: Land of 10,000 Connectivity Solutions [pdf]. It revisits all of the below communities to see how they fared over the intervening years, while adding new counties, communities, and, for the first time, two local Internet Service Providers.
Original Report: Minneapolis, MN —In 2010 the Minnesota legislature set a goal: universal access to high speed broadband throughout the state by 2015. As 2015 approaches we know that large parts of Greater Minnesota will not achieve that goal, even as technological advances make the original benchmarks increasingly obsolete.
But some Minnesota communities are significantly exceeding those goals. Why? The activism of local governments.
A new report by ILSR, widely recognized as one of the most knowledgeable organizations on municipal broadband networks, details the many ways Minnesota’s local governments have stepped up. “All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access” includes case studies of 12 Minnesota cities and counties striving to bring their citizens 21st century telecommunications.
- Windom, which is one of the most advanced networks in the state, built their own network after their telephone company refused to invest in their community.
- Dakota County showed how a coordinated excavation policy can reduce by more than 90 percent the cost of installing fiber.
- Lac qui Parle County partnered with a telephone cooperative to bring high speed broadband to its most sparsely population communities.