Broadband in America has gone from being a luxury to a necessity for full participation in today’s global economy and society. Unfortunately, a digital divide exists where rural citizens lag behind their urban counterparts in broadband access, speeds and capacity. Midwest Energy Cooperative has been expanding access to high speed internet to its members in rural southwest Michigan by leveraging fiber assets used for utility communications. Today the co-op has 2,200 members surfing the web and continues to add 50 new customers each week.

Earlier this year, Midwest received funding through the FCC’s Rural Broadband Experiment program to help build the system. The geographic areas not awarded funds are eligible for the 2017 $2 billion Connect America Fund (CAF Phase II) reverse auction. Bob Hance, President/CEO of Midwest, was invited to share his thoughts about the auction and the state of broadband in rural America at the National Association of Utility Commissioners (NARUC) summer meeting, held in Nashville on July 25.

Hance’s request of utility commissioners and attendees was to deliver what rural America deserves. Additionally, as the FCC deliberates over the need for broadband in rural America, Hance warned against only considering speed as a standard. “It’s not all about speed. Just as we don’t have to think about whether we need to unplug the microwave to use a toaster, we shouldn’t have to make decisions about what devices we use in the home. Rural citizens should have the expectation they can use all their devices at the same time without having to stagger usage.”

Overall, Hance’s comments were well-received. Panel participants and attendees gained greater knowledge of the importance of the CAF Phase II auction to closing the rural/urban digital divide, and are very interested in learning more about how electric cooperatives can play a role in this process.