broadbandIt wasn’t long ago that Telecompetitor was covering state-level legislation aimed at preventing municipal broadband networks. But perhaps the tide is shifting – at least when it comes to electric cooperatives.

Several states have passed new laws aimed at making it easier for electric cooperatives to deploy broadband networks, notes a recent post from the Community Networks blog published by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

Electric Cooperative Broadband Legislation
One of the first states to adopt such legislation was Indiana, where the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act became law in 2017, the blog post notes. That act gives electric cooperatives the ability to use easements for their electric poles to also deploy broadband networks. Previously, cooperatives that wanted to deploy broadband infrastructure along their electric easements would have to get permission from numerous landowners to attach fiber to the existing poles, Community Networks explains.

Since the passage of the FIBRE Act in Indiana, similar legislation has been adopted in Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland and Texas, the blog post notes.

The author also notes other recent state-level legislation aimed at overcoming other hurdles that have made it difficult for electric cooperatives to undertake broadband deployments:

  • North Carolina legislation removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from accessing federal funding for broadband projects
  • The Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act lifted a ban on internet service provided by electric cooperatives

Anti-Municipal Broadband Legislation
Electric cooperative broadband networks are a form of municipal broadband network, and multiple states passed legislation in recent years aimed at preventing those networks. Advocates of such legislation point to municipal networks that failed to achieve their objectives – although municipal network supporters argue that such failures are the exception rather than the rule.

Major incumbent service providers that offer broadband in a state also have supported anti-municipal network legislation, seeing those networks as a competitive threat – although here, opponents argue that municipal networks generally arise only when incumbents offer only low-speed broadband and have no plans to upgrade those services.

As of early 2017, ILSR had identified 19 states that had passed anti-municipal broadband legislation.

Why are some states taking a different – and essentially opposite – approach now?

Perhaps the reason is that states with few or minimal restrictions on electric cooperatives offering broadband have seen a rise in electric cooperative broadband networks. And rural electric cooperatives were some of the biggest winners in the recent Connect America Fund II (CAF II) auction, which awarded federal funding to help cover some of the costs of high-speed broadband deployments in rural areas lacking such service. That may have been particularly important in helping to change states’ attitudes toward electric cooperative broadband, as some states may have realized that in preventing or limiting electric cooperative broadband deployments, they could be losing out on federal funding.

Image courtesy of flickr user Sean MacEntee.

Join the Conversation

2 thoughts on “Are States Having a Change of Heart on Electric Cooperative Broadband Legislation?

  1. It's curious that you say that Cooperatives are a form of municipal network. They absolutely are not. Cooperatives are for-profit corporations that just happen to be owned by their customers. They do not fall under any of the laws concerning municipalities.

    If there is any pushback against Cooperatives it's coming as an anti-competitive knee-jerk reaction from the incumbents. They don't want any competition from anybody.

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