Hanging out in the Minnesota airport ready to head back to Washington, D.C. later this afternoon and thinking that while my time on the ground with the folks from the Minnesota Telecom Alliance was brief, it was productive and really enjoyable.
While news of pending snow made me opt for boots instead of high heels for this trip, the continued winter weather doesn’t slow down NTCA’s Minnesota members at all. I landed yesterday in time to listen in to the Calix and Inteliquent User Group discussions and am always blown away by the innovative technology solutions that the RLEC industry is deploying to improve the customer experience for their consumers. After some time to catch up with my board members – Kevin Beyer and John Klatt – and compare notes with the collaborative folks at CTC, I had worked up an appetite for some good Midwestern beef and time with MTA CEO Brent Christianson and his partner in work and life, Annie. (Is there something to having beef wanting to always autocorrect to beer on my iPad? Hmmmm, must be in the Midwest indeed!)
Minnesota is on the cutting edge in many ways but particularly when it comes to their state broadband matching grant program. The hard work put into the front end of this shining example of public-private partnership has made the four years of this program wildly successful and the number of rural consumers that are able to access high-speed broadband has been multiplied in a way that a federal program alone cannot do. I continue to hold them up as a model that RUS and others with newly charged motivation to provide funding should take a look at as a success.
The newest senator from Minnesota, Tina Smith (former state Lt. Governor) has worked with the MTA members for a long time and came to join us for a small group discussion on how her work in Washington, D.C. can complement the efforts on the ground in the state as well as the role she can play as a rural broadband champion with her seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee with ongoing Farm Bill deliberations underway. Aside from that, she is really a smart, spunky woman and I enjoyed getting to spend a few minutes with her outside of the D.C. bubble!
In the spirit of USDA playing a key role in broadband deployment, particularly with the new $600 million loans/grant program just signed into law, it was great to see their state RD director Brad Finstead at the meeting and I was delighted to hear his partnership with folks that dates to well before his start in his new role. He brings state legislative experience and is a rural policy expert, so what a fabulous role for him to step into. I think he may have helped host a Broadband 101 session for his entire team in Minnesota along with the rural broadband providers his first week on the job and is clearly on the hunt for innovative ideas from rural carriers in terms of what it will take to continue the broadband expansion.