Partnerships among cooperatives are changing the future of rural America

October 25, 2019

by Stephen V. Smith

Customers at outdoor eventIn a rural Kentucky community, dozens of people gathered Wednesday morning in the parking lot of a small country store. They came to learn. They came to celebrate. And they came to talk to their neighbors about what life will be like when they get connected.

NCTC (a telecommunications cooperative) and Warren RECC (an electric cooperative) hosted the event to mark a partnership bringing broadband internet access within reach of some 800 households in southeast Warren County.

The crowd heard from Dewayne McDonald and Johnny McClanahan, the lead executives of the electric and telco, respectively. They heard from elected officials and chamber leaders. But the most important words they heard were from their neighbors and friends.

There were stories of existing internet access so slow that a 1 Mbps connection dwindled to uselessness in the evenings as more residents logged on. Some spoke of having to drive to nearby Bowling Green to find a Wi-Fi hotspot so their children could complete homework assignments. One man told a story of trying to download a software update on his wife’s laptop — it took three days and the process eventually timed out.

Warren RECC has decades of experience serving rural south central Kentucky with reliable electricity. Likewise, NCTC has decades of experience connecting homes and businesses in Tennessee and Kentucky, first with basic phone service then later with TV, internet and security.

These two companies share a mission, working to bring reliable services to their rural regions. They also share the cooperative business model, something that helps guide every decision they make — including this partnership. After all, one of the Seven Cooperative Principles is “cooperation among cooperatives.” NCTC and WRECC are shining examples of that principle in action.

People at outdoor nctc eventThis is not the first partnership among cooperatives building a fiber network to bring true broadband to a rural community. Nor is it the first one our company has assisted with. But standing there this week in the warm sun and light breeze of a Kentucky morning, I was struck by the real human impact of what I was witnessing. As people picked up a brochure, enjoyed a cookie, and snapped photos of the large map showing the pilot area, the excitement was real.

And the message was clear: fiber is coming, and this community is about to be wired with some of the fastest, most reliable internet service available anywhere in America.

“This is an important piece of the puzzle,” I said out loud to myself. Everyone needs a broadband connection today, and that will become even more true in the years ahead. The extreme challenges of serving our more sparsely populated landscapes may only be overcome by thinking creatively and leveraging the strengths of other entities who care equally about the people of rural America.

Only then can they reap the benefits of participating in our modern, technology-driven economy.

Only then can they truly be connected.

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To read more about the NCTC/WRECC project, visit FiberForWarren.com.