electric utility pole

Rural electric cooperative association NRECA has established a new membership service tier available to association members that offer or plan to offer broadband.

Those enrolling in the service tier will get additional benefits such as “focused relationship-building and lobbying on Capitol Hill and federal agencies, plus exclusive events and publications and enhanced services and analyses,” according to a report about the NRECA broadband tier published at cooperative.com.

“NRECA’s mission is to be an advocate for quality of life in the diverse communities our members serve,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson in the report. “Increasingly, our members’ missions include providing access to affordable broadband for unserved and underserved Americans as part of that commitment.”

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NRECA aims to work with members to develop strategy and resources involving federal policy and regulatory advocacy; communications, events and member education; and operations and technology support.

NRECA Broadband Service Tier

Voting electric cooperative members of NRECA that are exploring the possibility of providing broadband will pay $6,000 per year for participation in the broadband service tier. Cooperatives that already provide broadband to consumers can join for $12,000 plus one dollar per broadband consumer per year.

According to the cooperative.com report, over 200 electric cooperatives currently offer broadband service and another 100 to 200 are studying it. The association expects to see about 400 of the cooperatives offering broadband service.

The decision to create a separate service tier for NRECA members that are involved in broadband seems to make sense. The benefits that NRECA expects to provide those members have a cost and it seems fair to only ask those involved in broadband to cover those costs, rather than passing the costs on to the entire membership.

Rural electric cooperatives have become an important force in the rural broadband market. For example, a consortium comprised of several rural electric cooperatives was one of the top 10 winning bidders in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, which awarded funding to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved areas. Winning bidders were those that committed to deploying service to an area for the lowest level of government support.

As the government gets set to make even more funding available for rural broadband, some NRECA members undoubtedly will be pursuing funding opportunities and will want to advocate for their interests as policymakers establish guidelines for the new funding programs and as those programs unfold.

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