Four Tenets of Rural Broadband

1. Residential broadband is not merely a speed.

Broadband is the capability to provide internet access service with the speed, capacity and latency necessary for whatever number of devices is normally in use at a home at any given time. Only two technologies meet that definition of broadband: fiber optic service, and cable service using DOCSIS 3.0 or 3.1. Wireless, copper, and satellite cannot meet a rural community’s residential requirements for speed, capacity and latency and therefore should not be supported with public funds. “Technological neutrality” is code for those advocating in favor of their technologically inferior services.

2. The most efficient way to build fiber-to-the-home in rural areas is to use rural electric cooperative infrastructure.

Electric coop fiber deployment is unlike telco fiber deployment and requires an electric network approach, not a telco network approach. An electric network approach is one that provides comparable services to all areas, not different levels of service depending upon population density or the length of copper loops. If rural electric cooperatives had built networks the way telephone companies build networks, a rural home today would be able to use one or maybe two appliances at a time. Lights on in the living room or in the kitchen? Watch television or keep the refrigerator running? Online homework or online shopping? Streaming over the latest 4K television? Sorry, in the rural telco DSL world, one low-speed, low-capacity device at a time.

3. Fiber-to-the-home is economically feasible to deploy to every rural home that has an electric line, without government operating subsidies.

Government subsidies have distorted decision-making in the market and have retarded fiber deployment. Oddly, $30 billion in federal government subsidies are being provided only to those companies that believe that fiber-to-the-home deployment in rural areas is not possible. These subsidy programs should be replaced by a one-time capex, competitively-bid fund for fiber-to-the-home in geographic areas with a population density of less than 8 homes per mile. Then, the rural subsidy program should be ended.

4. Partnerships can provide economies of scale for operations, and will work to the extent that member contributions are valued on an objective basis.

The model for such coops is the Generation &Transmission/Distribution coop structure. Distribution coops that construct, maintain and own the fiber and lease dark fiber to a broadband operating cooperative is a workable division of roles and responsibilities. Pay attention to rural Michigan in the coming year where the state’s distribution coops and G&T coop are working together to bring fiber-to-the-home on a statewide basis. Every state or region in the nation can do the same.