If you flip open the dictionary (or use the online version), the word “partnership” is described in many ways, but the main gist is generally “an association of two or more people or entities that conduct a business or pool money, skills and other resources and share profit and loss in accordance with the terms of their agreement.”

I tend to prefer the synonyms noted along with the word “partnerships” like “cooperation,” “association,” “collaboration,” “coalition,” “alliance,” “relationship” and “connection.”  Those nouns are right up my alley!  I tend to believe in the synergies that folks can generate with some scope, scale and the right skill-sets in the room. That is why I was so pleased to see the NTCA Board of Directors establish a task force based on Telco-Electric relationships and how to possibly try to harness the energy there for the good of those in unserved or underserved areas and conversely, how to ensure that electric cooperatives stay true to their local cooperative principles by NOT overbuilding existing broadband facilities that their local communications providers have in place.

The task force, comprised of four board members along with three members of NTCA’s Future’s Group, is perfectly positioned to noodle through a number of issues that swirl around these types of partnerships such as where can they be successful? How can they be facilitated? How can we craft guardrails in the right venues to ensure that federal support is used wisely and efficiently? What types of incentives can be crafted that make the extra work of collaborating additionally attractive? How do we actually help facilitate some of these “on the ground” conversations at a more local level?

We had our first task force meeting last week when Jannine Miller, Senior Advisor for Rural Infrastructure at the USDA, was game to spend a few hours comparing notes with the group as infrastructure and broadband initiatives continue to heat up.  The conversation and exchange of ideas was lively and I am looking forward to finding ways to create a platform that will give more providers ideas on creative ways to achieve a win-win.  More unserved folks – particularly in price cap areas – getting service and newer potential revenue streams for rural broadband providers who are able to see this as a new line of business.

More to follow but I thought the words of Levoy Knowles, head of the Tennessee Telecommunications Association, were so wise to the E-Connectivity gathering we had with Secretary Perdue and Chairman Pai last week.  He noted that the rural broadband providers in the state of Tennessee only covered about 30 percent of the footprint of the state, and their electric counterparts are nearly double – but by working with electric providers in their state, they can ensure that consumers have opportunities and they are able to prevent overbuilding from taking place from a utility sector that is now kind of fascinated with broadband deployment.  Sometimes, a good offense is indeed a good defense.

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