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2019: Electric Cooperatives and the Digital Divide: Helping Connect Rural Americans to 21st Century Opportunity

Co-Learning Plan - 2019

Authors: Mitchell Shapiro, Independent Consultant


The task of bringing high speed Internet to America's rural communities remains a challenging and painfully unfinished one, aggravating the existing economic and social divides these communities face. To help address this challenge, certain rural energy cooperatives (RECs)—including three in Michigan—have begun deploying high-speed fiber optic networks to better connect their members. This project examines the experience of these pioneers and related factors to develop a body of information, analysis, and recommendations to inform strategies aimed at expanding broadband, and the benefits it can bring to underserved rural communities.

Author Information

Mitchell ShapiroMitchell Shapiro, Independent Consultant 

Mitch Shapiro has worked as an independent consultant and author in the telecommunication industry for 35 years. For the past decade he has applied his broad and deep knowledge of technology, policy and business issues to the challenge of expanding high-performance broadband and its benefits in underserved areas. Mitch’s recent work with CCED includes: 1) a 2019 REI co-learning plan entitled Electric Cooperatives and the Digital Divide: Helping Connect Rural Americans to 21st Century Opportunity and; 2) a 2020 Innovation Fellowship focused on developing strategies and alliances to expand broadband access throughout Michigan. He has also worked with MSU's Quello Center, co-authoring a report examining innovative technologies and strategies to extend broadband connectivity and a policy brief focused on strategies to bridge Michigan's digital divides, and contributing more than 50 posts to the Quello Center blog.

Mitch’s interest in community networks dates back to the early 1980s when, as a graduate student, he co-authored a guidebook for communities interested in creating cooperatively owned cable TV networks. Since then he has continued to research and write about the feasibility and benefits of community-owned broadband networks, including a community fiber guidebook published in 2008 by the Public Technology Institute. He is also the founder and author of the Evolving Human Systems blog.

Mitch holds a B.A. in economics from the University of Michigan and an M.A. in telecommunications from Michigan State University.

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