I know that in many ways, the year that we are on the verge of parting ways with has been stressful…crazy stock market swings, lots of social media noise, the growing feeling of division within our country, and ending the year with the government on a partial shutdown. However, from the perspective of the rural broadband industry, 2018 was an excellent year. It was a year that saw policymakers move beyond making noise about rural broadband to actually putting money where their (collective) mouths were and then putting resources behind those words. Numerous critical actions throughout the year by the FCC regarding the Universal Service Fund should help stabilize this industry for enough years to come to help create some regulatory certainty and allow rural carriers do what they have been hoping to do—create a more long-term business plan for extending, expanding, and maintaining broadband connectivity to the communities they serve. That is a very, very good thing.
We also saw numerous congressional committees focus on other ways to support broadband deployment, the release of more details on the USDA broadband pilot project, as well as a new five-year Farm Bill with additional broadband initiatives with the emphasis needed on inefficiencies generated by overbuilding federally funded networks. Efforts continued to explore ways to eliminate regulatory barriers to deployment and policymakers made it out to rural broadband provider locations in record number to see what implementation looks like on the ground and how broadband impacts the lives and livelihoods of consumers and small businesses. We also had the Department of Homeland Security recognize the unique role that NTCA plays in providing education and services to our members in this critical cyberspace as it awarded us a second grant to continue to pull rural broadband providers under the umbrella of critical information. Call Completion legislation, initiated by NTCA, was signed into law early in the year and in the topsy-turvy year that this has been. We had some interesting discussions with Frontier Communications on how we might have NTCA members play a role in helping the corporation fulfill their broadband obligations under CAF only to have the CFO of the corporation resign a few weeks after those discussions and some possible movement toward smaller spectrum licenses as the FCC continues to review spectrum policy.
All of this leads me to a fresh look at 2019 where I think the association will have the opportunity to continue working on a long list of priority issues with renewed energy and vigor. More on USF, rate floor, robocalling, cybersecurity, infrastructure, ICC, Interconnection, mapping, contribution reform, spectrum, video fairness, evolving speeds, Farm Bill implementation…and that just scratches the surface. The NTCA board and our policy committee leadership are starting the year out on the right foot with a call on January 2nd to begin communication and coordination on priorities for the year ahead as well as the foreseeable future.
As for me?
Aside from the age-old commitments to myself to try to get to bed before 11:30 pm, eat less sugar, make it to the gym even more often, and actually sign in to my wellness Rally portal on January 1st and stick with it, I am also focusing on a few key areas including….
– Developing relationships with the new Congress, new leadership, FCC, White House and USDA
– Promoting a strong fiber strategy, engaging NTCA members more on spectrum issues and work to ensure that infrastructure and rural broadband stay top of mind for policymakers
– Continue to keep NTCA meetings and content fresh and relevant for all participants
– Continue to actively pursue partnerships/synergies for NTCA’s membership in all possible arenas including enterprise space, contracts and other utilities
– Ensure that our internal operations at NTCA in Arlington and at our service center in Asheville are efficient and effective for our team and members and that we continue to offer the right mix of services and benefits
– Focus on developing and taking care of our staff, some of the finest in the association world. As Richard Branson famously said “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
Now I simply need to take the rest of the afternoon to purge the remaining holiday goodies I have around the house, so I can at least give myself a fighting chance!
Happy New Year…and a happy and healthy 2019 to all!