By Hannah Miller
Rural electricity and telephone coops are one of the great sharing success stories in American history - largely due to coordination by the federal government. In 1934, only 11% of farmers had electricity compared to 90% in Europe. Private electric companies refused to serve many rural customers or price gouged them when they did. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was formed in 1935 to fix the problem by providing technical assistance and loans to electric cooperatives. Less than 20 years later, practically all farms had power due largely to electric coops.
The REA was such a success that the same strategy was used in the 40s to make telephone service available in all rural areas. The Rural Telephone Administration matched the success of the REA. To this day, 1.2 milllion rural residents are members of a telephone coop.
The US government's success in boosting rural economies through cooperative development is a largely forgotten story that couldn't be more relevant today. For instance, in creating jobs.