BACK IN THE early 1930s, farmers couldn’t get wired. The big-city electric utilities claimed that delivering power to customers spread out in rural areas wasn’t profitable. So eventually the locals rolled up their sleeves and did it themselves. They formed electric co-ops and strung their own damn wires, aided by cheap federal loans. Today there are nearly 900 rural co-ops still providing their communities with electricity. A DIY success story!
Now history repeats itself—with broadband. Thirty-nine percent of rural Americans had no access to home broadband in 2016 (compared with 4 percent of folks in urban areas), because big telcos say it’s too expensive to build affordable fiber-optic broadband in the countryside. Residents have to make do with dialup or Wi-Fi from a library.
So co-ops are solving the problem again. In rural Oklahoma, for example, the Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative recently laid 2,497 miles of fiber-optic cable—a feat that required blasting through some bedrock—to launch its broadband Bolt Fiber Optic Services. Today Bolt serves almost 9,000 members, offering gigabit connections for less than you’d pay for comparable service in a city.
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We need more of this in the Sierra. Waiting for the major providers is a losing game. If small communities want broadband they are better off to build it and manage it, free from corporate manipulation.