Lessons from the Field, News

Discussing rural broadband at the 2016 Southeastern NTCA Conference

As cities nationwide wire for broadband by attracting competition, competing to bring in Google Fiber, or investing in public service or public-private partnerships, rural America continues to be overlooked. The FCC estimates that 15 million Americans – the vast majority in rural communities – lack even “entry level” broadband in their homes.

Fortunately, rural communities have a competent, effective lobbying organization in the NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association. The NTCA, according to its website, “represents nearly 900 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America[,…] advocates on behalf of its members in the legislative and regulatory arenas, and… provides training and development; publications and industry events; and an array of employee benefit programs.”

Among its industry events was the NTCA’s Southeast Regional Conference, held on July 10-11, 2016, in Williamsburg, VA. I had the privilege of being one of the 500 or so folks attending the event at the Williamsburg Lodge.  I found myself and maybe four other attendees wearing ties on day one in this down to earth event that had guests coming from Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina.

After removing my tie on day one, I joined my fellow attendees in short-sleeved dress and polo shirts. In between conference panels and over meals, I learned which rural telecom towns had the the fewest street lights, why rural America shouldn’t hold its breath for Google Fiber (hint: they tend to build in NFL cities), and I observed a friendly competition to see who could tell the best joke at Washington, DC’s expense (In good fun). Finally, the People’s Rural Telephone Cooperative of eastern Kentucky told the story of its success – including how it used mules to pull fiber up the hill to wire its gigabit hollers (hollows)!

Mule power, Jackson and Owsley counties, Kentucky. Credit: Lane Report.http://www.lanereport.com/58859/2016/01/now-entering-silicon-holler/
Mule power, Jackson and Owsley counties, Kentucky. Credit: Lane Report. http://www.lanereport.com/58859/2016/01/now-entering-silicon-holler/ 

I didn’t just schmooze and enjoy Colonial Williamsburg! The conference’s panels were as fascinating as the networking opportunities, and I came back to DC educated with new insights regarding the opportunities and challenges for rural telecoms that offer – or are seeking to offer – broadband to their customers.

Below is a brief list:

  • Rural broadband providers are and need to continue to move into supporting home wireless networks, and connecting peripherals, so they can improve their customers’ perception of network reliability and control the general user experience.
  • Rural telecoms are being strongly encouraged to move into their own pay-per-use services such as security cameras, home automation, and additional wireless access points.
  • Rural telecoms are seeking straightforward ways to map population trends and land development projects to determine what new service areas they might acquire.
  • Finally, don’t knock mules!  They got the job done.

It was a pleasure to attend the NTCA’s conference, and to meet many of the great rural telecommunications professionals who attended. I look forward to next year’s!


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