NTCA members know Jessica Zufolo, former RUS deputy administrator and recently a special aide to FirstNet leadership. Jessica has jumped into the world of rural technology and communications with her role at RUS and has really developed a great respect for the rural carriers providing services to rural America—even though I am pretty sure her own roots are certainly more urban oriented.
Jessica recently went to USAC to be the special assistant to the CEO of USAC, so she has been wonderfully persistent about me going over to meet with him. USAC is the independent, not-for-profit corporation designated by the FCC to administer the universal service programs. They provide education, the collection and distribution of USF funds, and focus on compliance. I think most NTCA members think of “audits” when they think of USAC, but after meeting the new CEO, I remain hopeful that we can forge a more constructive and engaged relationship with this critical entity.
Chris Henderson, USAC’s CEO, has a long and rich history of public service combined with vast experience in the private markets, and the combination of those skills will serve him well in his new role. I shared with him who NTCA members are and where they serve, along with the challenges they face and the opportunities they continue to seek in their markets and for their customer base. I also offered up having some NTCA members swing by next time they are in D.C. to share with the USAC staff what makes an RLEC really tick! Chris had noted that the majority of his USAC team is very “mission” oriented, and I think getting a better understanding of rural providers and how they ensure that their rural communities stay viable and have a growth trajectory is about as good a mission as exists. In addition, I think there are ways we can work more closely in tandem to further develop more telemedicine opportunities and to use both the high-cost program in addition to the health care portion of USF to bring more services to rural clinics and hospitals.
It’s always gratifying in D.C. to meet someone who really views their role as a catalyst for “good stuff,” and I truly believe that Chris Henderson does just that. Hopefully more to follow on ways to work constructively together in the future.