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Technology & Entrepreneurship

Electric Cooperatives Bring Internet To Rural Texans

BEC Fiber Technician 2.png
Bandera Electric Cooperative
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Bandera Electric Cooperative
BEC Fiber Technician Garrett Mitchell accesses a fiber splice case to finalize a customer installation

The Bandera Electric Cooperative is touting the growth of its rural broadband customers.

The power company is connecting customers overlooked by big name providers.

Cooperative CEO Bill Hetherington said Senate Bill 14 passed by state lawmakers last year accelerated efforts of cooperatives to connect rural Texans to the internet.

He said the BEC was able to double its broadband customer base after the legislation passed by lining its electric grid with fiber optic cable.

“Today we have more than 1,300 miles of fiber, internet access available to more than 55% of our members and we have more than 7,000 subscribers,” said Hetherington.

He added that improved broadband helped lure an aerospace company and 200 jobs locally.

Officials with the BEC said state lawmakers still need to approve a comprehensive statewide plan to connect rural Texans after the state comptroller reported it could boost sales by Texas businesses by nearly $7 billion and add 23,000 jobs.

In the 1930s, when the big power companies didn't want to come to rural Texas, local communities formed electric cooperatives to provide electricity and pull the rural economy out of the Great Depression, according to the BEC.

Today, as COVID-19 hits rural economies, electric cooperatives are poised to do what cable and telecom companies don't want to do – provide rural Texans with access to high-speed broadband and support their local communities, said the cooperative.

When Bandera Electric Cooperative surveyed its members several years ago, their top concern was lack of Internet access. This communications shortfall prevented economic growth and damaged long-term financial stability of the region.

BEC said it developed a business model that would improve the electric grid's resilience, security and efficiency while also providing customers with access to high-speed internet.

Texas Sen. Robert Nichols authored SB 14 in 2019, creating broadband expansion opportunities that allowed BEC and other electric cooperatives to accelerate getting broadband to underserved areas in rural Texas.

The Johnson City-based Pedernales Electric Cooperative, which serves a Hill Country area the size of New Jersey, has studied, but not yet launched broadband service on a wide scale.