According to a report by IHS Markit, the Internet of Things market will grow to house 30.7 billion devices in 2020 and 75.4 billion in 2025. That means even the most isolated of places need to gear up for the communications industry future as there will be more demand for services that can sustain mobile device usage.
While it does seem virtually impossible to keep up with the changing industry, rural co-ops are uniquely positioned to take advantage of community-owned internet projects. For example, most telephone co-ops have transitioned to fiber networks, upgrading customers from copper phone lines. In some cases, rural electric co-ops are already primed to provide fiber internet to their members.
Fiber networks can help your co-op provide faster and more reliable internet service. Touted as being “future proof,” fiber can support many uses for homes and business, even those in very rural areas. For example, the non-profit ACEWR, funded by Allband Communications, collaborates with research facilities and universities across the U.S. since rural Michigan is an ideal spot for wildlife research.
The downside to fiber networks is that they require higher capital costs in the beginning. However, once those structures are in place, the operating costs could be lower over the long term. In other words, if you prepare once for the implosion of the Internet of Things, you should be set for the foreseeable future.
Reach Out to Major Adopters for Help
While this may sound incredibly intimidating, you don’t need to go it alone. Reach out to major adopters of IoT devices that will directly benefit from having fiber networks. Some of the major adopters include fleet and inventory management and government-funded programs. For example, think healthcare initiatives, where these companies need connected devices to be able to communicate to hospitals, transport goods and even carry out medical procedures. These verticals will also be the most interested in security measures and will be more willing to work with rural co-ops if they see a direct benefit.
Besides reaching out to these types of companies, partnering up with municipal networks can also be beneficial. For example, Appalachian Electric Cooperative in Tennessee is working with a municipal network in Morristown to give rural areas high-speed internet access. That way, even if your co-op doesn’t have fiber capability just yet, working with one that does will allow you to build out fiber networks for your customers.
Look Toward Government Programs
Co-ops can also look to government-funded programs for help. The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund gives out grants to help those who want to build out high-speed internet networks for those who do not currently have access. Other places to look include the Broadband Technology and Opportunity program and the Broadband Initiatives Program. Even the USDA’s Rural Utilities Services division offers the Community Connect Grants, the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants, the Farm Bill Broadband Loans and Loan Guarantees, and the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans and Loan Guarantees programs.
The most successful co-op projects are ones where the community is most involved. Connectivity in rural areas in preparation for the Internet of Things isn’t just about connecting entertainment devices. It’s just as much about giving access to farmers, entrepreneurs and research facilities. The more partnerships you can foster, the more everyone will benefit.