I was delighted to be invited by Geoff Feiss, head of the Montana Telecommunications Association, to come out to join his meeting this past week in beautiful Big Sky Country to share some thoughts and perspective on what is taking place in Washington DC and in the telecom industry generally. I seldom turn down a trip to such a beautiful part of our country…and am always stunned by the vast swaths of land with few inhabitants while I am making that final approach into the Bozeman airport.
Of course, I had to prove my ability to let go of my “city slicker” ways so I joined the crew for their annual fly fishing adventure on the Gallatin River. This was my second effort at the sport. Let’s just say that if dinner had depended on me, we would have all gone hungry! However, the day was beautiful and the group gathered was terrific and the scenery was tough to beat. The only thing I caught were the bushes behind me as I was casting!
Geoff always puts together a terrific program – his congressional delegation, his state leaders, different industry perspectives and case studies. It was a great opportunity to tee up a number of issues that NTCA is focused on – USF caps, locations, RDOF, mapping, performance testing, ReConnect, our Smart Rural Community branding efforts, cyber and our upcoming Summit this fall….and the laundry list went on! The need for flexibility on location definitions is key in a state like Montana where ranchers and farmers and others have various facilities that need broadband access but don’t fit into the pretty picture that some policymakers have of what a location is. That is why getting out of DC is important – so policymakers can really understand how folks live in these rural communities instead of making judgements from behind a desk!
It was great to spend time with our Montana members and hear what was on their minds…how Teledoc really works and why the program might be an ideal solution for a state like Montana where even basic clinics might be a few hours drive away. There was also a great deal of discussion about the various number of broadband definitions by any number of federal programs and the recent veto of state legislation to grant property tax relief for broadband construction. Microsoft, WISPA, ACA, Connected Nation and RUS also added to the discussion.
Given the length of the trip to get out to Montana, it would have been crazy to simply turn around and head back home (right?) so Don and I spent another 2 days exploring the wild beauty of the state. We did a wonderful long hike up to a hidden mountain lake (I could have sworn the hike was twice the 6.6 miles advertised after hour 3) and a shorter hike near a local waterfall. I was struck by the growth and development in the area and the plans that the developers of Big Sky have for continued expansion. I hope that only means increased opportunities for NTCA member 3 Rivers Coop who serves the area (and the mountain range and some desolate valleys and some tribal areas). I am always struck when I head out West how significant the deployment challenges are in a land where the livestock outnumber the people by…a lot…and admire the work that our members do to ensure those living out there are well served.