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Electric Co-ops Make Ready for Broadband

More than 250 U.S. electric cooperatives are developing or planning to deploy broadband services to their members, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). That’s only a fraction of the nearly 900 producing and delivering power around the country today, but that’s expected to change.

“Fiber broadband adds a lot of economic development to very small communities,” said Ryan Kudera, Senior Consultant, Finley Engineering Company. “Ultimately, member and owner relations improve and change, continuing to show members the success of the cooperative.”

He attributes some of the delay in co-ops getting more involved in broadband to the conservative nature of the organizations, as well as some early public failures. “The key performance metric for co-ops is keeping the lights on,” Kudera said. “That’s all they’ve done for 70, 80 years. Broadband is very cutting edge.”

Preparing for deploying fiber broadband means co-ops need to do the necessary work to evaluate and prepare – to “Make Ready” – their utility poles for deploying fiber on them. Poles need to be inventoried and assessed for loading, what other organizations are attached to the pole and if they are appropriately using their space.

One headache that many co-ops are running into is rights-of-way. “Is the right-of-way only good for electric?” said Kudera. “Can you put broadband on it? That’s a big sticking point out west. Co-ops have a lot of rights-of-way, but they can’t put anything but power on them. That creates a long lengthy process for broadband that is sometimes very costly.”

As states become more aware of pole usage and attachments, they have become more involved in making access easier for broadband applications. “There have been states that have gone in and said attachment rates should be one dollar,” Kudera stated.

To learn more about how co-ops are making ready for make ready, listen to the latest Fiber for Breakfast podcast.