With only a limited number of days left on the calendar for the year, my colleagues in the rural utility industry cleared time off of our schedules to find a common meeting space for lunch so we could compare notes as we wind down with 2017 and head into the New Year.
Jim Matheson, head of NRECA (the electric coop association) and Sheldon Peterson, head of CFC/RTFC (a major lender to the rural utilities) and I met up in Tyson’s Corner (home to a major mall and hence a gutsy move a few days prior to Christmas given the traffic) to catch up before we start the year ahead. Sheldon always does a wonderful job of sharing his perspective on the American and world economy – one I always value. Jim shared some of the challenges the electric cooperative industry is facing with a switch in administration priorities on clean energy and priorities that electric cooperatives may have in the remainder of the current Congress. Of course, we all shared our thoughts on how best to combine forces to bring broadband to unserved areas of our country and I, being kind of a one-trick pony, continued to harp on the value of partnerships in these unserved communities. Rural utilities, bringing their collective strengths to the table to enter into unserved markets, seems like a far better way to address the rural broadband deficit tha having these community-based utilities compete with one another in markets where it is already difficult to justify entry.
We also shared our thoughts (and I was tempted to place bets) on the future of a possible federal initiative on infrastructure. Jim, having been a former moderate Member of Congress, had a really insightful perspective on the balancing act for Congress in considering legislation that should transcend political barriers and yet at the same time, is only likely to add to the national debt, so how does that impact it’s odds in this political environment? I continue to be bullish and am looking forward to continued discussions on the role of rural broadband in any infrastructure package when we head over to USDA tomorrow for more in-depth talks.
Given my love for connecting the dots, I picked up the lunch tab so that my rural utility buddies would feel compelled to meet up again in the next quarter to even out the ledger and keep the discussion going….