Photo of Ted CaseLast month, I participated in a keynote panel at the Oregon Connections Conference in Ashland on the status of broadband deployment in our state. The OCC is the largest gathering of broadband providers, vendors and policymakers in the state, including several of Oregon’s electric cooperatives.

Specifically, the moderator asked panelists to describe this point in time regarding our country’s broadband telecommunications infrastructure, with the pretext we will have unprecedented funding from the federal government.

I told the audience that if broadband deployment is analogous to the advent of rural electrification from 80 years ago, then America is stuck in 1950. That year, 80% of American farms had electricity—a major improvement from where we started, but not good enough.

Just 15 years earlier, in 1935, only 10% of farms had electricity. Electric cooperatives working with the federal government undertook one of the greatest public-private efforts in our nation’s history.

There are striking similarities between electricity and broadband deployment, particularly for rural Americans. In the 1930s, rural Americans were tired of the promises from giant power companies.

“Just be patient,” the big companies told them. “Electricity is coming.”

Rural leaders grew tired of waiting and started their own electric co-ops to do the job themselves. Electric co-ops involved in broadband entered with this same mindset: We must do this job because no one else will do it.

Today, there are other providers involved in broadband, and that brings us back to 1950. It was an inflection point for rural electrification, just as it is today with broadband. Massive progress was made, but we were not finished. We had to get to the last mile—no family was going to be left behind.

A broadband expert in Oregon believes our state will see close to $1 billion in broadband funding. As I told the OCC, if the state of Oregon and broadband providers do not finish this job with $1 billion, we will have squandered an opportunity of a lifetime. No one will equate us with those who transformed our nation 80 years ago.

But I know Oregon’s electric cooperatives will do their part to make this new history. Because they have done it before.

Executive Director Ted Case