It’s bright and early (ok, maybe more foggy than bright) as I head to Reagan National Airport to begin the day of taking Commissioner Rosenworcel and her top legal adviser out to see some of rural America. It was kind of an odd experience heading to the airport without any luggage, and I am certain that I’ll be wondering all daylong why I feel like I’m missing something. But off to find my coffee and hopefully the Rosenworcel team, and off we will head to Nashville, where North Central Telephone Cooperative CEO Nancy White will pick me up while the Commissioner will rent a car so that she can make some pressing phone calls—until we reach the point on the interstate (that Nancy has already pinpointed) where she will no longer have cellphone service. That point is about 40 minutes out of Nashville and not even halfway to our destination of Lafayette. At that point, the Commissioner and Travis will jump in and ride with Nancy and me so she can show them her service territory.
Amazingly enough, we landed on time and met Nancy White at security and headed out to territories northwest of Nashville en route to Lafayette. As we went through North Central’s service territory, we heard how their per household annual income is about $32,000 on average and the impact that has had, including factories closing and tobacco farming on the downturn. As soon as we hit the town square, we went to the local hospital where we were met by folks in the hospital who work on the telemedicine projects, a local health-care group that is looking for more opportunities to connect nationwide with other health-care providers, local area high-school seniors who wanted to share with the Commissioner their experiences with the value of broadband (college applications and research papers are key!), and two local school officials —one who has a school district with NCTC’s robust broadband and one who has broadband to the school outside of their service territory, but whose students need to gather in the local McDonald’s parking lot to use the Wi-Fi to complete their homework assignments. The world of “haves” and “have nots.” The telemedicine story was very powerful, particularly on the heels of a patient who had come in last week, suffered a heart attack and survived thanks to the immediate link with a larger hospital for diagnostics in that critical first hour after the attack.
Because Nancy and her team were amazing planners, we quickly jumped into the car and headed down to City Hall, where the mayor of Lafayette and well over a hundred local community members were waiting to watch the presentation as NCTC was awarded NTCA’s Gig-Capable Certification and to hear from the esteemed Commissioner. Commissioner Rosenworcel could not have been more gracious in her praise for the local, community provider and made note of how they were offering better communications services in the middle of rural Tennessee than she was able to receive at her residence in the middle of Washington, D.C. The celebration included the community, the telco board and staff, and our friends from WordSouth, who did a marvelous job of documenting the visit and critical conversations.
A few more chances to meet some local congressional reps, etc., and we ran back to the car and were on our way to meet an early evening flight to D.C. It was a long day, which started out earlier than I typically care for, but I could not be more appreciative of Commissioner Rosenworcel and Travis for taking the time and making the effort to come visit rural America and help me celebrate all of the amazing things that NTCA members are doing to impact their communities and the people they serve. As we turned into the airport, the Commissioner turned to me and shared how valuable it was for policymakers to hear these stories and that while NTCA members tend to be humble, given these challenging times on the USF front, it is more important than ever to share the challenges of deploying broadband to communities where it makes such a difference.