I always love the energy that comes when NTCA members come into town and hit the Hill and key agencies to share their stories and perspective on building broadband in rural America. With a ton of recent activity – the recent order from the FCC finding reserves to make up some of the budget shortfall, the FNPRM on the future of building high-cost networks, upcoming CAF II auctions, a new RUS funding program in the Omnibus measure approved by Congress, initiatives in the Farm Bill on broadband and the kickoff today of our e-connectivity partnership tour with the Farm Foundation, USDA, key lenders and NRECA – have made for a really busy three days!
We kicked off Monday with Commissioner O’Rielly most graciously coming over to share some thoughts with our members as he and I chatted not only about USF high-cost activity but also spectrum policy and the need for program coordination between the FCC and USDA so that USF support and RUS support remain efficient and noncompetitive with one another. That would be a wasteful outcome for the American public.
Jannine Miller, head of infrastructure initiatives for Secretary Perdue also shared her perspective with our attendees and noted that USDA is taking their time to ensure that they “get this right.” Jannine is smart and innovative and is the right person at the right time for this job. I really appreciated her taking a few hours after she spoke to sit down with NTCA’s newly formed Telco-Electric Partnership task force and compared notes with them on what it really takes to get broadband deployed, where the particular challenges of low-density come into play and how might partnerships be given additional “credit” for any joint applications that will likely mean real progress for those Americans currently unserved or underserved.
Newly sworn-in RUS Administrator Ken Johnson spoke to folks on (literally) his first day on the job. I greatly admire his willingness to fill out his new paperwork and make his way across town on his first day. We are looking forward to a constructive relationship for years to come.
Insightful Hill staffers shared their congressional outlook and key folks from the 8th floor of the FCC also took time from their schedule before a packed open FCC meeting the following day to share some priorities on their office’s agenda.
Tuesday morning was chilly but Representative Latta from Ohio, a founding member of the House Rural Broadband Caucus came by bright and early to share some thoughts on why it was so very important for NTCA members to tell their stories and Senator Heitkamp from North Dakota gave her usual passionate pledge on supporting policies that support rural broadband ….and then she got to brag a little bit on the amount of fiber that the state of North Dakota has already deployed – thanks to USF and RUS support – and how that is making a difference in the economy in her state.
After hundreds of Hill visits and a lot of shoe leather – NTCA partnered up with the Farm Foundation, as well as USDA, CFC, CoBank and NRECA to kick off our e-connectivity partnership tour over at the main USDA building.
Secretary Perdue joined us to share his message reiterating how critical broadband is to the future of our country and FCC Chairman Pai made his way to USDA to share how bridging the digital divide is one of his top priorities in his role as chairman of the key independent agency. Levoy Knowles, head of the Tennessee Telecom Association was a rock star as he shared how much infrastructure the independent telcos in Tennessee have in place but also recognize that they only cover less than 30 percent of the state and that finding creative ways to partner with others – including rural electric co-ops – might be a way to serve more folks and create some scope and scale in the state. I applaud Levoy’s leadership in holding constructive discussions that are starting to yield fruit in some telco-electric partnerships in that part of the world in a way that is a win-win!
Well, it’s only Wednesday so I’ll be looking forward to what the rest of the week will bring but I’m well-fortified by my wonderful husband who made sure that we had plenty of ice cream on hand to help get me through the remainder of the week!