I’m sitting in New York City’s frantic and lively Penn Station two days before the city’s landmark Independence Day celebration watching travelers looking to make a “great escape” after spending the day with CFC at their annual Forum up here in the Big Apple.
I am forever grateful to CFC/RTFC CEO Sheldon Petersen and his continued efforts to find collaboration and lines of commonality between his telco and electric utility borrowers and giving me a slot on this year’s Forum program to talk about ways electric cooperatives might approach finding broadband solutions through working with their local or community based rural broadband providers.
Vern Dosch, CEO for NISC and Tim Bryan, CEO of NRTC and I found a constructive way to split an hour to talk about partnerships, why/why not, how electric cooperatives are approaching broadband and what are some of the lessons that electric utilities could learn from their telecom counterparts who underwent an immersion into the competitive marketplace decades ago with the signing of the Telecom Act of 1996. It was a great opportunity for me to share with a roomful of electric folks what local, community based (not necessarily cooperatives!) could bring to the table in terms of deployment in areas under or unserved by larger carriers in their larger rural footprint and why that might at least be a place to start.
With a similar commitment to their local communities, overlapping customers – both with fiber-based networks, efficiencies and possible additional sources of new revenues and the mere fact that rural broadband providers know technology, have years of experience in a competitive landscape and have made the sales culture pivot most effectively – electric cooperatives have much to gain from finding ways to collaborate instead of compete. Community-based providers competing certainly doesn’t do much to move the needle on un/underserved America and is frankly, a waste of resources.
The discussion was robust and I greatly appreciate my partners – Vern and Tim – for always looking for ways to ensure that rural utilities have a level playing field and motivation to work together. I was also heartened by the electric cooperative leadership that waited in the room to exchange some thoughts with me – that open discussion and collaboration needs to set the tone at the national level so that we can work to have it carry into the field. I have some business cards safely tucked away in my purse to do some needed follow ups when everyone returns to their office.
On a selfish note, I made sure that I arrived early enough in NYC to the Forum to hear Walter Isaacson, former Times Magazine editor and one of my favorite biography authors share some of his thoughts on innovation after his recent works following Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. I was in historian nerd heaven! Take aways? Creativity is the ultimate team sport. The iPhone cannibalized the iPod and that was a huge part of Jobs’ philosophy – do it to yourself before someone else does it to you, share a common P&L in your combined businesses so that your team sees the bigger picture, beauty and technology work together to create a human experience and disruption is the key to innovation. Brilliant and inspiring.