We’re wrapping it up here in beautiful Missoula with a thanks to our gracious hosts for the meeting, Blackfoot Telecom. The Northwest Regional Conference ended with “Out-of-the-Box Thinking Is Out-of-the-Box Doing,” one of my favorite discussions pulled together by our Associate Member Advisory Council. Once again, I was not disappointed.
Today’s discussion featured two telco CEOs, Dave Dengel from Copper Valley Telephone in Alaska and Bruce Todd from STRATA Networks in Utah, talking about their operations and ensuing culture changes over the past few years. In addition, Rob Ferris, CEO of the VisionNet fiber network in Montana, shared some thoughts on the value and importance of the RLEC industry finding scope and scale through collaboration on these state fiber networks, as well as the value that INDATEL will bring to this sector of the industry.
Dave shared the unique challenges that come with providing top-notch services to remote and rural Alaska and the success to date of their LRA agreement with Verizon. The costs of construction in his service territory can be at least three times higher than the national average, particularly when you’re still plowing through ice in July (and talk about a short construction season!), with fiber sometimes costing $80k to $100k per mile to plow. But Copper Valley is not only in tune with their elements, they are in tune with the needs of their customers. Their schoolchildren ride at least an hour en route to and from school, and the telco provides a hot spot on the buses so kids can do their homework during their long commutes. They also really take advantage of telemedicine connections to major health clinics in Anchorage, as well as provide scholarships for Internet connections.
Bruce had similar, powerful stories to share about STRATA Networks. I loved the wise words that he kicked off with, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” STRATA’s increase in nonregulated revenues is a welcomed trend, and their exploration of services such as data center and cloud-based IT services shows that the company is always moving and the leadership for change comes from the board, executive team and the entire staff.
I find these sessions to be a refreshing reminder. While there are cultural shifts to be had, NTCA members view themselves more as technology companies and not just telcos. I also loved the suggestion thrown out at the meeting that telcos (or rural technology companies! ) regularly invite a group of high school, or even middle school, students for pizza and ask them what technologies they are using that month! Insight into our future customer base!