7 POWER TO THE PEOPLE CHAPTER ONE American cooperative — a fire insurance company — was founded by Benjamin Franklin. But the cooperative model also provides a gateway to the future. In the twentieth century, leaders in rural America saw the power of working together to overcome obstacles. Years before the invention of the first computer, they set the stage for a cooperative path to progress. In the 1930s, amid the Great Depression and the devastating effects of the Dust Bowl, the rural-urban divide in America was greater than ever. Thomas Edison lit up Manhattan in 1882 and turned it into the city that never sleeps, but 50 years later, 90 percent of rural Americans were still using wood stoves, kerosene lamps and hand pumps for their wells. As part of his New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935, which offered 30-year loans to cooperative ventures. Sebastian Dosch — grandfather of Vern Dosch, the current CEO of NISC — went door to door to collect $5 from each household in Emmons County, North Dakota, as an investment. The big utility companies didn’t want to string miles of line to connect just a few houses; instead the communities were going to have to do it themselves through a cooperative. Having electricity to pump water and move grain made the family farm financially viable and literally changed life for the Dosches — and for others across rural America. “[Grandpa] talked about when they first placed that yard pole on the farm,” says Vern Dosch. “He talked about that first night, being able to read under a light rather than a kerosene lamp.” Throughout the country electric cooperatives wanted a unified voice and representation in Washington, D.C., and in 1942 formed the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Reliable telephone service took even longer to reach the less populous regions of the country, where they were all but ignored by the Bell telephone companies. In 1953, 60 percent of farm homes had no telephone. Some farm communities set up their own party-line systems with a switchboard in someone’s home, but others in rural areas had to travel to a country store to use a public telephone. Over time, the lines deteriorated, and callers had to shout to be heard through buzzing, humming or weak connections. Onceagain,communitiesturnedtothecooperativemodel for a solution. Farmers founded telephone co-ops or mutuals, which secured low-interest federal loans to build systems. In 1954, eight rural phone systems formed the National “The world’s changing, and we’ve had to change with it. It’s becoming more technology driven. NISC is willing and able to help us do that.” — DON CRABBE FIRST ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE CORPORATION