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As middle-mile broadband gets more attention, utilities are tapped as critical partners

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
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  • Apr 15, 2022
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Middle-mile broadband has gotten more attention in recent years as internet becomes more a critical service than a luxury. Many rural areas in America are still without high-speed broadband access because the infrastructure does not exist. Investor-owned utilities might be able to extend beyond their electricity duties to help.

In California, the governor recently announced a nearly $6 billion effort to build middle-mile infrastructure for rural broadband access, teaming up with projects already outlined along state highways. A new report from Pew Trusts, shows how Alabama Power, an IOU in Alabama, partnered with broadband providers to lease additional broadband capacity that supported internet service across the state. In Mississippi, utility Entergy worked with a broadband provider on an $11 million project that brought broadband to areas stretching 300 miles across the state. 

There are, of course, no requirements for electric companies to do this, but some states are working to encourage the partnerships, as they offer a cleaner and more efficient way to bring high speed internet service than massive, state-funded infrastructure projects that can take years to plan and build out. Virginia and West Virginia legislatures have both passed bills that allow IOUs to dip into the broadband game with feasibility studies. In West Virginia, Appalachian Power is working on a $61 million project to put 400 miles of middle-mile broadband in some of the state’s most underserved counties. 

It appears that utilities could be tapped to have a greater role in modernizing the country’s infrastructure beyond renewable energy and new grid technology. 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 15, 2022

It appears that utilities could be tapped to have a greater role in modernizing the country’s infrastructure beyond renewable energy and new grid technology. 

Highlights the new role that utilities are going to play in the future-- so exciting!

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Apr 19, 2022

I'm encouraged by these reports, as Internet access has increasingly become essential for education and business, so expanding the availability of internet services to underserved populations creates incredible good will.  And, as utilities connect  homes to the grid, so can they also play a role given their infrastructure to deploy broadband.  As I say so frequently on similar topics, "who better than the utility to play a role?"  If it supports customer good will and positive outcomes and provides a new incremental and recurring revenue source, it makes sense for utilities to engage in these projects.

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