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Cooperative principles offer a way forward on rural broadband

Monday, January 29, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Shari Wormwood
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Increasing high-speed Internet access in hard-to-reach, rural places will require new paths and new levels of cooperation, according to leaders and speakers who gathered last month at Minnesota’s Border to Border Broadband Conference.  And cooperatives were at the center of the conversation.

Co-hosted by Blandin Foundation and the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development, the conference drew more than 150 community leaders from across rural Minnesota.


New forms of cooperation are needed to reach those who do not have access to high-speed Internet, said conference speaker Kevin Edberg, executive director at Cooperative Development Services in St. Paul. “Communities have to think differently, think collaboratively, to see progress,” he said. “We’ve been here before. There are patterns, histories, and systems that exist, but we have to rediscover what it means to know our neighbors.”

 Laura Withers, NTCA Director of Communications

Blandin Foundation’s Director of Public Policy Bernadine Joselyn offered the Seven Cooperative Principles as an existing framework for thinking about how to achieve Minnesota’s broadband goals. “Cooperation and community are at the core of all cooperatives,” said Joselyn. “Their shared commitment to putting community at the center of their work uniquely positions them to create partnerships to expand broadband access.”


Successful broadband partnerships start with conversation and assessing assets, said Laura Withers, director of communications at NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, during her address “Partnerships come in many forms and depend on the needs of both parties,” she said. “An electric co-op might want a new line of business, but doesn't have the capacity to manage it. That’s where a rural telco partner or municipality could come in.”

NTCA created to collect information from organizations interested in partnering with an electric coop, telco or municipality to invest in broadband.


“It’s like for broadband partners,” said Withers. “Cross-sector partnerships are the future of our industry and we’re going to continue finding ways to spark new relationships.” Minnesota’s co-ops are leading the way on broadband partnerships and it’s being recognized at the national level, she said.

“The state would not be where we are today without support and investment from cooperatives,” said Joselyn. “We applaud the work cooperatives are doing to build vibrant, connected rural Minnesota communities.”

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