NTCA was very excited to support USDA’s new ReConnect grant, grant and loan program when it was voted into existence by Congress and implemented by the team at RUS. However, I’m not going to lie, when the first grants out of the box were distributed to an electric utility and municipality, I became a tad concerned that the RLECs were going to be cut out of the process given that they have been doing the job already of building networks in their areas for years and aren’t the “shiny new toys” in the mix.
But my concerns have been put to rest with the recent spate of great news coming from USDA. USDA has announced tens of millions of dollars in combined funding will go to Premier Communications (Iowa), GRM Networks (MO), Star Communications (NC) and Oklahoma Western Telephone Company (OK) to improve connectivity for rural households, small business and farms.
It’s been really exciting to hear the announcements along with the presence from USDA at each of these announcements – from the national operation to the state Rural Development directors.
I was invited to join the celebration in Iowa and not only did the Under Secretary of USDA make the announcement along with the state director, but Governor Kim Reynolds (who has made broadband in the state a priority!), also joined in the celebration with Doug Boone and the rest of the Premier team. The event was hosted at a local farm and was the perfect setting to talk about how this grant to build fiber to the home (or to the farm or maybe even more appropriately Fiber to the Hog!) was going to positively impact the strong agriculture economy. It was a treat to meet excited consumers, state and local leaders and the staff who worked so hard to make this grant a reality…which will in turn make broadband a reality for nearly 1200 rural consumers.
Completing the loop before I headed back to DC where we are hosting our Telecom Executive Policy Summit (and NTCA and SMC board meetings!) this week, I stopped in to see the great folks at SDN Communications in Sioux Falls at their “campus” headquarters. Their B2B offerings have made them an RLEC-owned state fiber network to be envied and I always enjoy hearing from CEO Mark Shlanta what is next on his priority list.
In a great turn, the front page of the Washington Post (my Sunday indulgence is to sit with a cup of coffee or two and make my way through all of the sections…) had a headline story on the explosion of telemedicine in South Dakota with Avera Health leading the way with their innovative services that are bringing remote health care and health care practitioners into rural communities using broadband technology…fueled by their partnership with SDN! A perfect end to the week….