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JCE representative testifies at US House subcommittee hearing on rural broadband

Access to high-speed broadband internet is essential for the continued success and well-being of rural America, small businesses and continued economic development a local cooperative representative told a U.S. House subcommittee on Thursday. 

Jo-Carroll Energy vice president of external relations and general counsel Chris Allendorf testified before the U. S. House Small Business Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade at a hearing addressing rural broadband on June 22.

The hearing focused on broadband deployment efforts by small telecommunications companies that traditionally supply the bulk of broadband services to most of rural America. The subcommittee is chaired by U.S. Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa).

“What they wanted to know is what has worked for us in terms of providing broadband and what hasn’t,” Allendorf said. “Our testimony focused on small businesses and the impact broadband has on small businesses and farms.”

The invitation to testify about Jo-Carroll’s experience with rural broadband deployment came from the office of U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Illinois). Also testifying were representatives of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband and the Competitive Carriers Association.

 “Our testimony related how fixed-wireless broadband has not proven to be a good solution for our area,” Allendorf said. “As our utility operations evolved and we switched from fixed-wireless broadband to fiber, we saw benefits of fiber internally, and we heard feedback from local businesses that they needed reliable high-speed internet not subject to latency and bandwidth constraints so that they could be competitive in the global economy.”

“We’ve seen fiber as the broadband technology that we can leverage on existing infrastructure; it is scalable to meet future demands in rural America, unlike fixed-wireless,” he added.

While in Washington, Allendorf  also visited the offices of four Illinois U.S. representatives to provide them with his subcommittee testimony and to discuss how critical broadband is to rural America. Allendorf emphasized the impact of broadband and how important a technology like fiber is to leveling the playing field for rural small businesses and farms, allowing them to compete in a global economy and, in doing so, provide economic development for rural areas.

Starting in 2016, Jo-Carroll Energy undertook a fiber-to-the-premise pilot project in Galena. “Based on the feedback we have so far, fiber has proven to be the solution—or a major component—of helping rural businesses and rural residents compete with urban areas and enjoy the same quality of life,” Allendorf said.

Challenges brought to the committee’s attention by Allendorf included consumer density (four consumers per mile in rural areas compared to 30 plus per mile in urban areas), rugged rural terrain, and trying to broadly deploy broadband technology with limited access to capital resources.

“Major government investment through grants and direct funding of construction are essential,” Allendorf stated, “and cooperatives should have the same access to these funds as major companies.”

Rural utility co-ops are a natural partner to expand deployment of broadband because of the existing infrastructure they have in place, due in large part to the investments made over 80 years of service, Allendorf said.

Fielding questions from lawmakers, Allendorf reiterated the pressing need for a robust broadband infrastructure in rural areas as the foundation for access to reliable high-speed Internet.  He stated that the costs to build the necessary infrastructure are too great for small companies like Jo-Carroll Energy and regulatory burdens are high.

He urged the committee that Congress should look to rural electrification as a model for how government can work with local partners to achieve big things.  Allendorf stressed that rural access to broadband today is as important as electricity was 80 years ago

“Co-ops were tasked with providing electricity to rural America so that rural America had the same quality of life and business benefits that electricity provided their urban peers,” Allendorf said. “We see it as equally imperative for rural America to have access to reliable, high-speed broadband as they had electricity.

“Can you imagine large swathes of the United States without electricity today?” Allendorf asked. “Can you see that with broadband 10 years from now? The task is no less great or important.”

Allendorf's written testimony to the subcommittee can be found here.

A video of the subcommittee hearing is linked on our Facebook page or can be watched here.

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