Broadband internet service is an important element of life today, and yet some rural areas of the United States are severely underserved. On the other hand utilities were instrumental in ensuring that all homes had access to energy with the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. Over the past few years, individual states, their regulators and utilities, had the forethought to explore meaningful ways to leverage the utility communications infrastructure to also enable rural broadband.
Lack of access to broadband in rural and underserved communities has been an issue as 4G and 5G opened up new opportunities for economic development everywhere else, from telehealth, ecommerce, internet of things, entertainment, and education, but not in the rural communities. The COVID - 19 pandemic only exacerbated this issue. The utility’s role in being an enabler of rural broadband is no longer seen as isolated state issues, but a national issue.
Electric utilities of all types are considering or making investments in their own private wired and wireless broadband communications infrastructure primarily to enhance the reliability, security and modernization of the grid. This document is primarily focused on the options for investor-owned utilities (IOUs) to augment and use that infrastructure to also support broadband internet service deployment to underserved consumers, a practice referred to as “middle-mile leveraging.”
This playbook outlines specific models for supporting those rural broadband efforts and provides real-world experience and examples from utilities, regulators, and industry experts on bridging this digital divide.