NTCA’s Foundation for Rural Service does so very much for the rural broadband industry and even more for the communities that these companies serve—but one of my favorite FRS activities is their annual trek out of D.C. with a gaggle of Capitol Hill staffers and into the real world (i.e. out of D.C.!) to see how rural networks are built and to help them better understand the challenges of broadband deployment where the land is vast and the people far and few between.
A few weeks ago, FRS Executive Director Jessica Golden took a group of 15 Hill staffers (with a waiting list to boot) out to South Dakota to experience all of that and more. They spent two and a half days driving across the state from Sioux Falls to Rapid City. Along the way, these congressional staffers met with NTCA members who shared their stories of broadband deployment challenges, opportunities, and successes across the state. The group started at SDN Communications, hearing from Rich Coit from the South Dakota Telecommunications Association (SDTA), Greg Dean (SDTA), Mark Shlanta (SDN) and Larry Thompson (Vantage Point Solutions) before touring the SDN Data Center. The next day, the group took a quick tour of Vantage Point before driving to the town of Kimball where they were welcomed by Midstate Communications staff members Mark Benton and Chad Mutziger, who took them to a live cattle sale enabled by Midstate’s high-speed broadband.
For lunch, the group drove to the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center, which works to promote the education and understanding of the Northern Plains Indian culture. During lunch, we were joined by Mona Thompson (CRST Telephone Authority), Randy Houdek (Venture Communications), Rod Bowar (Kennebec Telephone), Roger Musick (Innovative Systems), Ryan Thompson (Santel Communications Cooperative), and Marlene Bennett (Consortia Consulting). The group chatted with the staffers about the important services associate members provide to NTCA members such as engineering, advocacy, and billing software. They also discussed the role that tribal entities play in South Dakota and the unique challenges of providing broadband to tribal lands. I’m pretty sure this group of staffers looks pretty riveted on whatever words of wisdom Mr. Houdek is dispensing to them!
After lunch, the group embarked on a tour of the majestic Badlands National Park. As the staffers passed through the rural terrain, Kelly Wismer of NTCA and Denny Law of Golden West discussed the unique geography of the state and the challenges of providing broadband in such conditions. You can tell many of them have likely never seen land so vast and geographically diverse.
Each year, the FRS Capitol Hill tour ends with a number of new alumni who better understand rural providers and their unique challenges; even as rural broadband is the hottest buzz word in town. These staffers in turn, do a better job of explaining the issues to their bosses on Capitol Hill and hence the understanding grows. Heck, one of them “learned” so well that we brought Adam Jorde onto our own team and into our policy shop!
FRS could not do this work without the support of NTCA members and associate members who support the Foundation financially. My thanks to all who have partnered with FRS over the past (nearly) 25 years…here’s to at least 25 more!