Last night I received a “heads up” call before the official notice came out shortly afterwards touting that USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was applauding President Trump’s intent to appoint Kenneth Johnson, current General Manager/CEO of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative and President for Co-Mo Connect in Missouri as the newest RUS Administrator. Johnson started his career in the electric utility industry in Nebraska and is a director and past president for Central Electric Power Cooperative in Missouri, where he has also been active in the policy arena.
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association does sincerely congratulate Kenneth Johnson on his appointment to a position that is so key to rural utilities. While much progress has been made in deploying broadband-capable networks, much work remains to be done – and we must also sustain those networks already in place for the benefit of rural consumers and communities. Given Mr. Johnson’s rural industry experience, we are eager to work with him on these efforts and to ensure continued efficient and coordinated use of resources across the various RUS programs and the many other federal initiatives aimed at both promoting and sustaining rural broadband. Our nearly 850 community-based telecom providers are looking forward to partnering with RUS under his watch to build upon the many productive relationships already in place and secure an even brighter broadband future for all of rural America.
I also remain hopeful that our new Administrator will continue to understand the importance of ensuring that all precious government resources are used wisely and certainly not in competition with one another. Particularly as he will now be the head banker for this sector and will balance his experience with ensuring that he is able to run a smart financial portfolio as well. Current policies in place that safeguard and prevent overbuilding will be critical, and I remain hopeful that ongoing discussions with the department will enforce that rural utilities receiving RUS or USF support should not be put in a competitive situation where the business case for one entity providing broadband services is already a tough case to make! Particularly when there are large parts of the country – price-cap country – that are unserved and would benefit greatly from possible rural utility partnerships. After all, we’re a cooperative industry (regardless of your corporate structure) so I remain optimistic that these cooperative principles – including not overbuilding/competing – will be honored to ensure the best outcome for rural utilities, their customers and their communities.