The search for better broadband should start with existing local providers

NEW NTCA logo 4CRural connections

By Shirley Bloomfield, CEO
NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association

There is no question that broadband Internet service is the key to economic and community development, especially in rural America. However, there are differing opinions in Washington about the best way to continue building our nation’s connected infrastructure.

While I applaud President Obama’s recent attention on increasing every American’s access to robust and affordable broadband, it’s not clear that his focus on creating more government-run networks in marketplaces where private operators already exist is the best path toward bringing more jobs and opportunity to rural America.

If our leaders are looking for an excellent model for what can be accomplished, we believe they should turn to the experts who have decades of experience deploying and maintaining modern telecommunications infrastructure: community-based, independent telcos like yours.

Rural telecommunications providers are delivering advanced technology to their customers.

Rural telecommunications providers are delivering advanced technology to their customers.

Nationwide, there are over 1,000 technology providers like yours that serve over 4 million households in the most sparsely populated pockets of our country, deploying high-speed, high-quality broadband services. For decades, these providers have gone above and beyond to build the infrastructure that allows our country’s most rural markets to access the same technologies found in our largest cities — and they’ve done it all under the extremely difficult financial and physical conditions that come with deploying technologies in rural and remote communities.

Thanks to the hard work and commitment of companies such as your local provider, rural America now has access to affordable broadband in some of the most remote locations. But the sustainability of those networks is at risk, and other areas need broadband as well. Policymakers in search of answers to these communications challenges in rural America should turn first to those who have shown they can get the job done time and again, rather than casting about for the next new thing, creating regulatory uncertainty and putting at risk significant investments already made in existing networks through the prospect of redundant or wasteful overbuilding.

There’s already a great broadband success story out there in rural America, and it is being written by community-based telecom providers like yours. As our national broadband story progresses, we should strive to build upon proven initiatives and leverage existing efforts that are working, rather than pursue new uncharted pathways. As this debate plays out, you can be assured that you have a voice in Washington, as your provider joins with hundreds of others through NTCA as the unified voice of America’s rural broadband companies.

Rural Connections

You are part of a nationwide rural family

Shirley Bloomfield (right) commenting at the White House Rural Council meeting. Listening to her presentation is Doug McKalip, senior advisor for rural affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Shirley Bloomfield (right) commenting at the White House Rural Council meeting. Listening to her presentation is Doug McKalip, senior advisor for rural affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council.

By Shirley Bloomfield, CEO
NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association

In my role at NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, I work with your telecommunications provider and nearly 900 others like it all across the country. Every day I am reminded of their dedication to building connections that support strong communities. When basic telephone service was what everyone needed, they were there. As broadband has become a vitally important resource for economic development, education, health care and more, they have focused their energies on building the best networks available.

And they do not stand alone. These rural providers understand that to serve you best they must stay on top of what is taking place in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission. To do that, they stand together on issues of common concern, speaking with one voice to make sure our nation’s leaders understand the needs of rural America.

This publication is another great example of that spirit of collaboration. By working together, telcos across several states are sharing important information about their companies and keeping you updated on news that impacts rural America.

A few weeks ago I had the honor of being invited to the White House, along with several leaders of rural telecommunications companies. We met with the White House Rural Council to talk about what rural telcos just like yours are doing to support community development. It was another great example of us all working together to shine a spotlight on the good work being done by your provider and hundreds of others like it.

From success stories on health care, education and public safety to efficient energy management, rural telcos have shown time and time again that they are not only the brains behind the networks they deploy, but also proven solution providers with a track record for adapting to and embracing change, and most importantly, responding to the needs of their communities.

Because of that cooperation, you as a customer or member of your local telco are part of an even bigger family that stretches across every region of this country. In the months ahead, I look forward to sharing stories with you about what these telcos are doing at the national level to ensure rural America stays connected.

Rural economies grow when citizens adopt broadband

Having a robust broadband network is important for rural communities, but a new study shows that the real impact comes when citizens learn how to put the power of broadband to work in their homes and businesses.

Brian Whitacre, an associate professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University, led the study, which was funded by the National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center. “We found that rural counties that did a good job of adopting broadband had higher rates of income growth and lower rates of unemployment growth,” he says.

For example, counties with a high level of broadband adoption — those in which 60 percent or more of the households had a wired high-speed Internet connection — experienced higher income growth and saw a smaller increase in unemployment rates than did counties that did not reach the 60 percent threshold.

The findings are among the first to show broadband’s impact specifically on rural U.S. economies.

Source: National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center

How do you broadband?

Across rural America, people are putting the power of broadband to work in smart, inspiring and creative ways. They are connecting with groups who share hobbies and passions. They are supporting causes and making a difference. They are learning new skills and going places they’ve never been.

We want to hear your story. What exciting ways are you using broadband to make life richer, fuller or more convenient? Visit www.HowDoYouBroadband.com and tell us how you’re harnessing the power of broadband for yourself, your family and your community. You could be featured on the website, or even in a story for this magazine.

Your story could win you a prize!

An independent panel will select the best stories submitted to the website between now and the end of the year. You could win a gift card, or even an iPad mini!

Visit www.HowDoYouBroadband.com and share your story today!

Making your voice heard

Why rural telecommunications providers stay connected in D.C.

The decisions made in Washington, D.C., have a direct affect on the affordability — and even the availability — of broadband and other telecommunications services in rural areas. To continue the progress rural telcos have made in bringing advanced technology to their communities, the U.S. Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must understand the issues and challenges associated with serving America’s more sparsely populated regions.

Rural telcos voice the concerns of their customers to policymakers through NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, which represents some 900 independent, community-based telecommunications providers. “It’s a far more competitive world, in terms of policy development and advocacy, than it ever was before,” says NTCA’s Vice President of Advocacy Initiatives Tom Wacker. “If our rural telcos are not out visiting with policymakers and telling their stories, someone else is going to be getting their attention.”

Below are some of the NTCA programs that bring providers together to ensure Washington gets the message: our industry is doing a good job keeping rural America connected, and we need federal policies in place to support our continued progress.

Legislative & Policy Conference

PrintHeld each spring, this conference brings hundreds of managers, board members and employees of rural telcos to Washington for three days of guest speakers and meetings with elected officials and regulatory agencies. Telco leaders in each state work with NTCA staff to assemble information on issues important to rural subscribers. This information is used in presentations aimed at keeping officials up to date on the rural telecom mission, as well as the progress telcos are making in keeping rural America connected through advanced technology.

Fly-ins

Throughout the year, NTCA coordinates numerous fly-ins. These events provide an opportunity for telco leaders to talk Infographic_tourism_005_WEBwith members of Congress and regulators about policies that impact their rural service areas. While the fly-ins have a similar mission as the Legislative & Policy Conference, they focus on specific issues and feature much smaller groups, allowing more one-on-one time with officials.

Telecom Executive Policy summit

Infographic_Social Media_006_WEBThis October conference is designed solely for general managers, chief executive officers and other upper-level management, allowing them to dive deeper into policy issues, exchange ideas and meet with members of Congress and the FCC.

Communications 

The communications division of NTCA shares the story of rural telcos and advocates for their interests through national Modern UI design layoutmedia releases, ad campaigns, publications and social media projects such as the #ruraliscool campaign.

What You Can Do

  • Ask candidates where they stand on issues important to the development of rural America.
  • Express to candidates your belief that laws and regulations should support rural telecommunications companies as they continue to invest in broadband networks.
  • Vote for those candidates who will be a strong voice for rural America.

How Advocacy Works — case study

Rural Call Completion

Problem:Rural residents and business owners are reporting that some long-distance and wireless callers are not able to get through to their landline telephone, and that some calls that do come through have poor call quality.

Cause:Long-distance and wireless companies often use third-party companies known as “least-cost routers” to route their calls into rural areas. Substandard service from these providers appears to be the root of call completion problems.

Consequences:Rural residents have reported problems such as connecting with friends and family, reaching emergency personnel and receiving calls from their child’s school. Businesses have reported incidents of lost sales opportunities because of failed calls.

Advocacy in Action

1. Residents take their concerns about call completion problems to their local telecommunications provider.

2. Providers work with fellow telcos through NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association to discover the extent of the problem and develop a plan to address it.

3. NTCA organizes meetings in Washington where telcos from all over the country come to discuss the issue with their elected officials and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

4. Legislative and policy experts with NTCA use real-life customer stories to show the FCC and members of Congress the negative impact this problem is having in rural regions.

5. Managers, board members and other leaders at local telcos talk with their members of Congress during district visits and through other means to express the pressing need to address the call completion problem.

6. The FCC issues a declaratory ruling clarifying that “carrier practices that lead to call completion failure and poor call quality may violate the Communications Act’s prohibition on unjust and unreasonable practices…”

7. The FCC adopts new rules to help the agency “monitor providers’ delivery of long-distance calls to rural areas and to aid the prosecution of violations of the Communications Act.”

8. The FCC issues consent decrees that cost three national carriers millions of dollars for practices that may have contributed to rural call completion problems.

9. Members of Congress introduce legislation designed to end rural call completion problems.

Advocacy Works

Working together through our national organization, NTCA, we joined efforts with rural telecommunications providers across the country to make your voice heard in the halls of Congress and at the FCC. We are getting results, and will continue to make progress toward resolving the call completion problem for rural residents and business owners.

NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association advocates on these and related issues:

  • Broadband
  • Call Completion
  • Health Care
  • Intercarrier Compensation
  • Safety & Security
  • Taxes & Corporate
  • Universal Service
  • Video & Cable
  • VoIP (Voice Over IP)

NTCA unveils ad campaign focusing on work of rural broadband providers

As your community-based telecommunications provider, we are committed to delivering the services our rural region needs to stay connected. In fact, no one is in a better position to serve you — and that is the message our national association is sending to Washington through a new advertising campaign.

The first print ad in the NTCA campaign reminds policymakers that solutions to rural challenges — such as making technology available to students in our local classrooms — have long come from rural telecommunications providers.

The first print ad in the NTCA campaign reminds policymakers that solutions to rural challenges — such as making technology available to students in our local classrooms — have long come from rural telecommunications providers.

NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association launched the print and digital ad series in July, sending a strong message to elected officials, regulators and their support staffs in the nation’s capital. That message is twofold: 1) that for more than 60 years, rural telecommunications companies have successfully met the challenges of delivering quality, affordable services to the country’s most rural and remote communities, and 2) that with the right support, these rural providers can continue to deliver real solutions as society becomes increasingly reliant on broadband connectivity.

The campaign is part of NTCA’s work to ensure the story of rural telecommunications is heard at a time when policymakers in Washington look to update rules affecting the industry. These ads are appearing in print and digital publications that have a high level of readership among these policymakers.

NTCA represents nearly 900 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America. The ad campaign is another example of how we work with other companies like us through our national organization to benefit our members and their communities.

Shirley Bloomfield is chief executive officer of NTCA. “As policymakers in Washington consider who to turn to as we continue to tackle the rural broadband challenge, we want to make sure they recognize that community-based telecommunications providers have been the solution for rural America all along,” Bloomfield says. “For decades, rural telcos have offered the most effective answer for rural communications problems by leveraging their own entrepreneurial spirit, their technical know-how, their commitment to community and federal partnerships that were effective in promoting investment. If they can continue to have access to the tools to do so, these community-based providers will remain the most effective answer to solve such problems in a broadband world.”

Growing Mobile: Survey says more consumers turning to the small screen

Put the Power of Broadband to work on your mobile devices

PrintDid you know that with broadband Internet service and a Wi-Fi network in your home, you can stream all this data over your wireless connection and avoid data charges from your cell phone provider? Call us today to learn more about setting up a Wi-Fi network in your home.

  • Fifty percent use a tablet to read newspapers
  • Eighty percent use their tablets after hours to research business products or services
  • Forty percent have replaced either their laptop or desktop with a tablet device
  • Seventy-five percent have used a smartphone to watch online video

–Source: Global Mobile Survey, IDG Global Solutions – www.idgglobalsolutions.com

Broadband Builds Business

Small businesses depend on broadband access as they drive America’s economy

Every day across rural America, small business owners are taking care of their communities ­— from grocery stores, restaurants and service stations to beauty shops, newspapers and banks.

Not only are these small businesses meeting our local needs, but they are also a vital part of our country’s economic recovery. According to reports compiled by the ADP Research Institute, the six-month period from September 2013 to February 2014 found that businesses with fewer than 50 employees created some 455,000 jobs, or 42.8 percent of all jobs created.

As small business owners put people to work — and generate some 46 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product — they increasingly rely on broadband Internet access to manage and grow their companies. In fact, reports from the U.S. Small Business Administration show that broadband is one of their most important resources.

“Access to high-quality broadband Internet service is absolutely vital for small businesses seeking to grow their operations,” says Rick Schadelbauer, an economist with NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. “It allows small business owners to cost-effectively promote the unique aspects of their operations and provides access to customers and markets that would be otherwise unattainable.”

Beyond having a website, small businesses are also using their broadband connections to engage with customers through social media. They are using online software for functions such as project management, bookkeeping and sales tracking. And they are networking with vendors to maintain inventory and track orders.

As broadband becomes the lifeblood of small business, telecommunications providers like us remain committed to delivering reliable, affordable broadband to rural America.

TelcoBadgeProof2Look for the “Broadband Builds Business” logo in our magazine throughout the year as we highlight companies who are using broadband to create new business opportunities and to bring new services to their communities. 

  •  Are you a small business owner? Share your story of how you’re using broadband to grow your business at BroadbandBuildsBusiness.com. We may feature you in our magazine!

 

The face of Small Business

In communities across the region, small businesses are using the power of broadband to operate more efficiently and provide better service.

Our national telco association joins with 34 rural groups to work for broadband support

Access to affordable broadband Internet affects all aspects of rural life, and regulators should act quickly to put a plan in place that will support the availability of affordable broadband service in rural America.

That was the message a group of 35 national organizations sent to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March. NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association signed the letter, along with groups representing consumer, community and business interests. NTCA is the national voice of telecommunications companies such as ours.

Because of the way Universal Service Fund (USF) support is currently set up, “consumers in rural America are being forced to select services they may not want, such as traditional landline telephone service, in order to gain access to broadband services at an affordable rate,” says Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA.

The letter specifically urged the FCC to move forward as quickly as possible to implement a Connect America Fund (CAF) mechanism for rural telecommunications companies like ours — a mechanism that will “provide sufficient and predictable support for broadband-capable networks across all of rural America,” Bloomfield adds.

The letter stated that “our groups include representatives of agribusiness, farmers and ranchers, rural health care providers, rural educational initiatives, economic development agencies, utilities, lenders and other sectors that are indispensable to our rural and national economies.”

—From NTCA Reports

 

In addition to NTCA, other organizations signing the letter include: 

  • Agricultural Retailers Association
  • American Association of Community Colleges
  • American Farm Bureau Federation
  • American Library Association
  • American Telemedicine Association
  • Independent Community Bankers of America
  • National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education
  • National Rural Economic Developers Association
  • National Rural Education Association
  • National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
  • National Rural Health Association
  • National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative
  • Rural School and Community Trust
  • State Agriculture and Rural Leaders

Connected homes, connected bodies

Consumers are embracing home automation and mobile, wearable devices

By Stephen V. Smith, Editor

For decades, society has imagined what the future will look like through movies, television, comic books and novels. These images almost always portray people interacting with technology to communicate with one another and control everyday tasks.

In the past five years, that future has moved much closer to reality, thanks to the convergence of several factors:

  1. Tech companies are creating devices that are more affordable and easier to use.
  2. Consumer demand for such technology is increasing (see infographic on right).
  3. Communications networks are delivering the bandwidth necessary to make these devices work.

Several recent news reports reveal just how fast we are moving toward a lifestyle similar to that of “The Jetsons.” The global market research and consulting company MarketsandMarkets published a report in November stating that the value of the home automation and controls market is expected to reach $48.02 billion by 2018. And in January, tech giant Google entered the home automation arena when it bought Nest Labs, the maker of advanced thermostats and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors.

The Ivee,  a voice-activated assistant that controls home automated devices over your Wi-Fi network, was one of the many products that premiered at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

The Ivee, a voice-activated assistant that controls home automated devices over your Wi-Fi network, was one of the many products that premiered at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

The future was perhaps most evident at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in January in Las Vegas. Dominating the huge conference were new, wearable, connected devices that control, monitor, collect, communicate and share for a wide range of functions (see www.cesweb.org for highlights).

For any of this technology to work, however, consumers need access to a reliable broadband network. Whether the devices are connecting directly to the Internet, across a broadband-enabled Wi-Fi network in your home or via a cell tower, the network that our independent telecommunications providers are building is making all this functionality possible in rural America.