Nearly 80 years ago, High West Energy began as Rural Electric Company when a few future-focused men persevered to accomplish a task that many thought was hopeless. Several community meetings were held in southeastern Wyoming, northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska to make plans for what was to become Rural Electric Company. Membership drives were held in various communities and a fee of five dollars was collected with each signed membership. Three years later, a loan was secured to build and energize 162 miles of line. For many years after, the cooperative continued building on its infrastructure, bringing electricity further and further into what is now a 4,500 square mile service territory. Electric cooperatives provide service to more than 42 million Americans. We serve the lowest population density by mile, nationally averaging just 7 consumer owners per mile of line. At High West Energy, that number is far lower (2.73).
In the 1930s, electric cooperatives brought electricity to rural America when the for-profit utilities would not. Today, that same scenario is being replayed as broadband service is deployed in rural America. Without robust access to broadband, rural Americans cannot take advantage of the educational opportunities or employment prospects that most Americans now take for granted. As each day passes without access to robust broadband service in rural America, the digital divide widens between our urban and rural populations.
Just 55 percent of rural Americans have broadband at home. Quick access to information is crucial in finding a job, getting a better education and even gathering the information needed to make major health decisions.
Today, as High West Energy strives to meet the needs of its members, the idea of bringing broadband into rural communities could be considered analogous to the need for electricity eight decades ago. High West Energy is already committed to providing competitively-priced electricity to our communities, so helping provide affordable broadband access could be a next step.