rural broadbandLack of broadband is costly, according to a new study from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). The study looked at the economic impact of lack of broadband in rural areas served by NRECA members.

The study estimated that 6.3 million electric co-op households lack broadband because of the high cost of providing service in sparsely populated rural areas. The average benefit each of those households would receive if they had broadband is estimated at $1,950. That puts the total value lost at $68.2 billion nationwide.

NRECA noted that the study didn’t look at the impact of missed opportunities such as expanded jobs, education and economic growth. Factoring that impact in would cause the economic impact of lack of broadband to be even higher, the association said.

“Closing the digital divide is imperative for rural communities and will help improve the economic outlook for the entire country,” NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said in a press release about the study. “Millions of Americans are locked out of the new digital economy simply by virtue of their zip code. Electric co-ops recognize the importance of expanded broadband access and are working to be part of the solution.”

NRECA pointed to the recent Connect America Fund II auction as an example of actions that rural electric cooperatives are taking to expand rural broadband. Rural electric cooperatives were big winners in that auction, which awarded funding to bring broadband to unserved or underserved rural areas. Twenty rural electric cooperatives bidding together as The Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium (RECC) won $186 million in the auction, making RECC the third biggest auction winner. In addition, several NRECA members that bid on their own also won funding.

Rural electric cooperatives hope to gain additional broadband funding in the Department of Agriculture’s e-Connectivity Pilot Program. In comments filed with USDA, NRECA advocated a minimum speed of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream as the minimum speed target for the program.

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