According to Community Broadband Networks‘s website October is National Cooperative Month– a month dedicated to the celebration of the work done by cooperatives to bring rural communities high quality internet access!
In honor of this month-long occasion I took a look at the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA). It is often better known as The Rural Broadband Association and considers itself “the premier association representing more than 800 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America.”
They have a program called Smart Rural Community which entails promoting rural broadband networks and their broadband enabled applications in communities in order to foster innovative economic development. The program hosts educational events, provides resources to rural broadband providers to assist in the establishment and achievement of their network goals, and administers an awards program that recognizes the successes of cooperatives in achieving high speed connectivity.
The 2016 Smart Rural Community Winners were: Arvig of Melrose, Minnesota; Ben Lomand Telephone Cooperative of McMinnville, Tennessee; Citizens Telephone Cooperative of New Auburn, Wisconsin; ComSouth Telecommunications of Hawkinsville, Georgia; Garden Valley Telephone Company of Erskine, Minnesota; Home Telephone Co., Inc. of Moncks Corner, South Carolina; Liberty Communications of West Liberty, Iowa; Mosaic Telecom of Cameron, Wisconsin; Pineland Telephone Cooperative of Metter, Georgia; SkyLine Membership Corp. of West Jefferson, North Carolina; UNITEL, Inc. of Unity, Maine; and West Wisconsin Telecom Cooperative of Downsville, Wisconsin.
Now you may be asking, “so what makes these rural communities ‘smart’?” It involves a collective effort of broadband-enabled solutions which build community strength and enables global competition. Most often high quality broadband enables a community to leverage economic commerce, blue-ribbon education, first rate health care, cutting edge governmental services, developed quality security, and energy efficiency. Their philosophy is that the better the interconnection of the community’s resources, the better citizens can compete in the global economy.
The Smart Rural Community page also provides an interactive map of the country highlighting the communities that have achieved GIG certified or Smart Rural Community Showcase awards. While the northern midwest boasts great success by these rural cooperatives, I found it most surprising the complete lack of these rural broadband achievements in the West. Washington, Montana, and Colorado are the only three states in the West with any type of recognition by the NTCA. It’s not like the West is lacking in rural/mountainous communities! The map serves as another reminder that while much has been achieved, there are still so many underserved communities out there just waiting for connectivity. Seems to me like the West provides a prime opportunity for an ambitious entrepreneurial spirit…