Taking the reins

Younger generation at Valley Head Saddlery keeps family business going

By Cliff Hightower

Three generations of McAdamses have owned Valley Head Saddlery. Dale McAdams is shown stitching a custom saddle at the shop.

Three generations of McAdamses have owned Valley Head Saddlery. Dale McAdams is shown stitching a custom saddle at the shop.

For Valley Head Saddlery, the business is all in the family and has been for 56 years.

Nestled atop the plateau near Ider, the store and factory pumps out saddles day after day. But the business is more than just a factory for saddles. It has been owned by three generations of McAdamses and is currently operated by six family members and two longtime employees who might as well be part of the family.

“Once this business gets in your blood, it’s hard to stop doing it,” says Kathy Tidmore, who co-owns the business with her brothers, Charles and Dale McAdams. The business started with their grandfather, Lowell McAdams, and father, Paul McAdams, who worked in the saddle trade in Chattanooga during the early 1950s. The McAdams family first started doing repair of saddles for a girls camp in nearby Mentone.

But what started out as repairs soon became a family business that has lasted more than five decades. Upon the death of their mother last year, the third McAdams generation took over the business and are now pressing on with the family trade.

The family brand

It’s a trade that requires a lot of blood and sweat.

Each saddle undergoes a rigorous quality inspection before leaving the shop.

Each saddle undergoes a rigorous quality inspection before leaving the shop.

Each day, the three come to the shop where they each have their own responsibilities. Kathy primarily runs the retail store and does bookkeeping, Dale handles the creative and design side of the business and Charles is a jack-of-all trades.

The family is proud of their business. They ship out handmade saddles to wholesalers from the U.S., Sweden, Germany, Canada and other nations, doing business the old-fashioned way in a new and changing world.

And they don’t plan on letting it go anytime soon.

“When you hold onto something since 1959, it’s hard to put it to the wayside,” Tidmore says.

The family makes a variety of different saddles from pro series to penning, roping and show saddles. They make any kind of saddle that’s imaginable and once even made a saddle for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

The business has evolved over the last several years, the family says. Just 10 years ago, Valley Head Saddlery would make around 40 saddles a week, but competition with imported saddles from overseas has changed their main focus to custom-made saddles, Tidmore explains. Customers like individualism, and the company helps provide that for them, she says.

“It’s gone to more of a custom build,” she says. About 90 percent of what the family makes now is custom.

The business itself has undergone changes, too, moving from the town of Valley Head in 1981 to its current location in Ider. Tidmore says they moved because the family lived in Ider and wanted to work closer to home.

They never changed the name because by 1981, the Valley Head Saddlery brand already had a solid reputation. The family continues to march on under that name, even though after 33 years it still causes occasional confusion. “We still have some people who think it’s still in Valley Head,” Charles says, chuckling.

Cowboy craftsmanship

The biggest hardship for the family came in 2006. The old building where the factory sat burned down along with most of the equipment inside it. They had to rebuild from scratch.

Kathy Tidmore shows a drawing of a special saddle her grandfather made.

Kathy Tidmore shows a drawing of a special saddle her grandfather made.

The family moved the plant to a warehouse behind the store and started over, just in time for the recession to deal them another blow in 2008. The McAdamses are finding a new place in the custom-saddle market. “We adapt to the customer a lot,” Tidmore says.

But what the family takes great pride in is the craftsmanship and quality of their product, which begins as a leather hide and slowly works its way through the production line to become a high-quality leather saddle. The hide is cut and manipulated into different sections. Then it is engraved by hand and any design elements the customer may want are sewn on before it is attached to a saddle tree. The last step is color. It is a labor of love.

Valley Head Saddlery is also home to a large store that once carried just saddles, but now carries a variety of things such as their high-quality saddles, saddle blankets and even toys and cowboy hats.

“Over the years, it has evolved into a larger store,” Tidmore says.

The company is one of the oldest businesses in northeast Alabama, and the family is fighting to keep it that way and carve their niche in a changing world.

While they don’t do direct Internet sales at this time, they say there probably will be a time when they move in that direction. Looking around the industry, they see more and more small shops like theirs going out of business, having lost the battle against saddles coming over from China that are cheaper but usually of inferior quality.

Kathy says the shop will repair well-made saddles, but won’t even touch imported saddles. “It’s a daily battle to compete against imports,” she says.

But the McAdamses keep trotting along as they make their saddles. Every day they come to work and make a product stamped with “Made in the USA” on it.

And every day someone in the world rides a horse with a saddle that says “Valley Head Saddlery,” made by someone with the last name McAdams. Just like they have for almost 60 years.

2014 Annual Meeting

Saturday, August 2, was more than an annual meeting. It was a celebration. Amidst the antique cars and Coke floats, the live music and conversations with old friends, members of Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative gathered to commemorate 60 years of local people building for themselves a network to keep their region connected.

In his report during the event’s business meeting, Executive Vice President and General Manager Fred Johnson reflected on the commitment of the people who six decades earlier did the hard work of forming a new cooperative. “I’m sure those men and women were excited to be getting telephone service,” he said. “I have no doubt they were excited about being able to talk to their friends and neighbors — but something more important was afoot.”

The people who organized FTC knew that services such as telephone were the keys to progress. “They understood something very important, and that was for this area of Sand Mountain to be viable long term, the critical components of infrastrucutre would have to be in place,” Johnson told the crowd. “This area would need electricity, telephone, water and later sewer service for people to want to stay here, live here, work here and raise their families here.”

It was in that same spirit of progress that FTC’s board of directors made a commitment in 2007 to build for its service area a modern telecommunications system. Johnson reported to members that by the end of 2014 FTC will have a network in place that provides fiber-to-the-home access to 82 percent of its members. The remaining 18 percent will have access to FTC’s world-class broadband network by being close enough to fiber facilities, or through access to alternative technologies from the cooperative.

The availability of a broadband network not only keeps people connected, it is also a vital part of economic development. Johnson told members that every industrial part in FTC’s traditional service area, as well as those located in Fort Payne and Section, are wired and ready with fiber technology from FTC.

As confirmation of the positive direction their cooperative is moving, members voted overwhelmingly to return Randy Wright of the Flat Rock exchange and Greg Griffith of the Henagar exchange to their seats on FTC’s board of directors.

Financial highlights

  • $23.6 Million — Gross annual revenues 2013
  • $1.1 Million — Net margins 2013
  • $452,435 — Capital credits refunded to members in 2013
  • $16.9 Million — Capital credits refunded to members since FTC was Formed
  • $65.3 Million — telecommunications and plant-in service (equipment, lines, poles, etc.)


Cooperative Couples Conference

CoopCouple IMG_0138Each year, Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative sponsors one member-couple to the annual Alabama Co-op Couples Conference in Orange Beach. Dedra and Jay Tuten of Fyffe represented FTC at this year’s conference. As part of the conference, they learned how their local cooperative can assist them in their everyday life.

In addition to Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, other sponsors included AgFirst Farm Credit, Southern States Cooperative, Federal Land Bank Association, Rural Electric Cooperatives, Dairy Farmers of America, CoBank, Alabama Farmers Cooperatives, Sand Mountain Electric Cooperative and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

SmartHub makes managing your account easy and safe

SmartHub logo - purpleFTC has partnered with SmartHub to provide members a safe and secure way to manage their accounts. SmartHub is a free application that can be downloaded for iOS and Android users. Members who currently use e-bill will be able to make the switch to SmartHub immediately.

SmartHub makes it possible to access your FTC account — even multiple accounts — from your computer, tablet or smartphone. You can view and pay your bill online; get timely account information and make payments in a secure environment.

Visit farmerstel.com for more information about SmartHub. Download the free app for your Apple device from the iTunes App Store or for your Android device from the Android market.

Win a Windows® Surface Tablet!

Sign up for SmartHub, paperless billing or bank draft through Sept. 30 and you’ll be automatically entered for a chance to win big. Sign up for all three services and you’ve got three chances to win!

The winner of the Windows® Surface tablet will be notified by October 15.

Call FTC and sign up today! 256-638-2144

Keeping you connected for sixty years

Fred Johnson
Executive Vice President and General Manager

The following was taken from Mr. Johnson’s annual report to the members.

Fred Johnson

Fred Johnson

Sixty years ago, a number of men and women gathered for the first annual meeting of FTC. Though they would not likely have described themselves as such, they were quite visionary. Perhaps they were excited at the prospect of being able to call their relatives and neighbors, but many there that day understood more was at stake. Electric power, still expanding, had been introduced 16 years earlier. If the Sand Mountain area was to prosper economically and remain a good place to live, work and raise families, a modern communications system would be essential. The investor-owned telephone companies made it clear; there wasn’t enough profit to serve Sand Mountain. If it was to be done, the home folks would have to do it. With vision, community support and funding from the U. S. Department of Agriculture, they made it happen. And here we are today, 60 years later, celebrating their vision and our continuing success.

To be certain, much has changed over the past six decades. Perhaps most fundamentally, broadband data capability has joined plain old telephone service as the economic essential. More than 3,000 of our customers now enjoy state-of-the-art digital TV, and we are adding about 130 per month. Whatever the challenge, FTC has continually shown determination to remain in the forefront of the telecommunications industry. We’re extremely proud that by the end of this year, we will have essentially completed our most recent system upgrade. About 82 percent of our membership will have direct access to optical fiber facilities and almost all of the remaining 18 percent will be close enough to fiber-served wire centers to enjoy world-class broadband access. This achievement puts FTC among the nation’s leading rural telecom firms, and we’re recognized as such. Along the way we’ve had to adjust to massive changes in the industry, technology and competitive and regulatory landscapes. Some literally threatened our foundations. FTC responded to these changes aggressively. We’ve worked very hard to be sure our costs were reduced where possible and controlled at all levels. The effort paid off. At a time when many rural telcos doubt they will survive, FTC continues to operate with sufficient margins and a strong financial position. We’ve had to raise rates occasionally over the past 60 years, but you can count the number of times we’ve done so of our own accord on one hand.

FTC has carefully expanded its service reach through our wholly owned subsidiary into adjacent territory that did not enjoy the class of service we provide. Every industrial development park in DeKalb County has access to the finest communications network you can find. The same is true for that portion of Jackson County we serve, including the Section and Dutton areas. Just as those men and women of 60 years ago understood what was needed, our current trustees have the same determination. FTC will provide the communication infrastructure necessary for a healthy DeKalb and Jackson. That is how we best accomplish our ultimate mission of improving and maintaining the quality of life for those we serve.

Each year, FTC sponsors an event for about 800 high school students from all over our service territories. I always ask them if they would choose to live and raise families in an area that had no phone, Internet or TV service. They respond exactly as you would expect, except that, perhaps, the Internet is at the top of their list. I then remind them that their parents probably would have felt the same way. Without the foresight of our founders, we would not be here today. Those men and women gave us a great gift. We intend to pass it to the next generation better than we found it. I am deeply grateful to our trustees for their leadership, to our employees for their dedication and hard work, and to you for your support of your cooperative. With that support we will continue to “Keep You Connected.”



Try these award-winning puddings

Foster’s Banana Pudding

  • 1 box vanilla wafers (set aside 7 wafers for garnish)

Bananas Foster:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon banana extract or 1/4 cup banana liquor
  • 1/2 cup dark rum, such as Appleton Jamaican rum
  • 4 bananas, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2-inch thick

Vanilla Pudding:

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Whipped Cream: 

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Stephanie's winning banana pudding 001For Bananas Foster: In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, melt the unsalted butter and add the brown sugar. Using a wire whisk, blend the butter and brown sugar. Once the mixture is well blended and begins to simmer, whisk in the cinnamon, vanilla extract, banana extract and rum. Bring the mixture back to a simmer and add the sliced bananas. Stir the mixture with a rubber spatula; simmer until bananas are soft, 6-7 minutes; remove pan from heat and set aside.

Vanilla Pudding: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar and salt; mix together with a wire whisk. In a separate bowl, combine milk and heavy cream. Slowly pour 3/4 of the milk mixture into the saucepan with cornstarch mixture, whisking thoroughly so the mixture is smooth. Place the saucepan on medium heat, stirring the pudding mixture constantly until mixture begins to thicken and comes to a soft boil. Continue to boil 1 minute; remove from heat. To the bowl of remaining milk and cream, add egg yolks, whisking until combined. Slowly stream in about 1/3 of  hot pudding mixture into bowl of egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly until combined. Pour egg yolk and pudding mixture back into saucepan and return it to medium heat. Continue to whisk mixture and heat until it is thick and begins to bubble. Remove from heat. Add unsalted butter and vanilla extract; stir until combined.

Whipped cream:  In a mixing bowl, add cream, sugar and vanilla. Using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer with whisk attachment, whisk mixture at medium-high speed until peaks form.

Assembly: In a 2-quart dish, layer half of the remaining vanilla wafers along the bottom so that they overlap one another. Using a serving spoon, spoon 1/2 of the Bananas Foster over the wafers. Pour 1/2 of hot pudding mixture over wafers and Bananas Foster. Layer remaining wafers in the same manner as before; repeat Bananas Foster and vanilla pudding layer, reserving 2 tablespoons of Bananas Foster for garnish. Cover and place dish in refrigerator to cool, approximately 2 hours. Once pudding has cooled, pour off any accumulated condensation and spread whipped cream over pudding. Top with 3 vanilla wafers in the center of the dish, add remaining Bananas Foster over wafers. Crush the remaining vanilla wafers and sprinkle over the dish.

–Stephanie Lutz, 2012 winner

Banana Brickle Pudding Brulee

  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 8 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • Vanilla wafers
  • 6 bananas


  • Vanilla wafers
  • 1 pint heavy cream, whipped and sweetened with a little sugar

To make cookies:

  • Vanilla wafers
  • 1 cup  butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

In 3-quart saucepan over low heat, heat half-and-half, sugar, salt and cornstarch, whisking constantly until it begins to thicken. Temper beaten eggs by whisking in separate bowl with some of the hot mixture. Add tempered egg mixture back into saucepan and continue cooking until thick. Remove from heat, add vanilla and softened butter. Let cool to room temperature. In large dish, layer vanilla wafers, sliced bananas and pudding. Repeat layers. Top with whipped cream and vanilla brickle cookies.

Prepare cookies: Place one vanilla wafer in each cup of a mini-muffin pan. In a saucepan, bring butter, brown sugar and pecans to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Spoon over cookies and bake at 375º F for 10 minutes. Cool.

–Roger Tisdale, 2013 winner

Banana Queen

There’s something nostalgic about banana pudding, says Stephanie Lutz. “It always makes you feel like a kid again when you eat it. And really, what’s not to like about banana pudding? Vanilla pudding, vanilla wafers and soft, sweet bananas. It makes me smile just thinking about it.”

Stephanie Lutz can cook an appealing dessert, according to judges at the National Banana Pudding Festival and Cook-Off. They chose her dish as the winner in 2012.

Stephanie Lutz can cook an
appealing dessert, according to judges at the National Banana Pudding Festival and Cook-Off. They chose her dish as the winner in 2012.

And she kept smiling when she was crowned the 2012 cook-off winner at the National Banana Pudding Festival, which is held annually in Centerville, Tennessee. Her prize in addition to bragging rights? A check for $2,000 and a beautiful gold-and-white sash. “The kind the beauty queens wear,” Lutz says with a laugh. “I think my friends were more excited about the sash than the money.”

Lutz heard about the cook-off by chance after picking up a flyer about it at the Tennessee Welcome Center on her move from Kentucky to her new home in Spring Hill, Tennessee, in 2011.

Lutz says she “looked to my husband and said, ‘We have to go!’”

So the couple attended that year, and Lutz decided she would try her luck the following year by entering the banana pudding cook-off.

“I’ve been cooking for as long as I can remember,” she says. “I guess it started with my parents. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of my dad teaching me to flip a pancake and my mother baking brownies from scratch.”

But she created her winning recipe on her own, along with a good bit of encouragement from friends and family, plus a lot of research.

“Because it’s a custard-based pudding, I wanted to make sure it stayed creamy, but had a light flavor,” she says. “I probably worked on it for six weeks and must have made 20 batches before getting it right.”

No one complained. “I shared the batches with friends and family, and they were always happily received,” she says.

There is a five-year waiting period between wins, so Lutz can’t enter again until 2017. But her win has given her the confidence to try her culinary skills in other cooking contests when she has the time, she says. She recently graduated with a bachelor of business administration degree in marketing from Middle Tennessee State University.

This year’s National Banana Pudding Festival will feature 10 finalists onstage cooking their puddings, all a little different from each other, but all equally delicious. More puddings can be found along the Puddin’ Path where, for a $5 donation, festivalgoers can sample banana pudding from 10 different nonprofit organizations and vote on their favorite.

If you go … bananas

If a dessert could lay claim as the crowning finish to a Southern meal, banana pudding would be sitting on the throne. And in Centerville, Tennessee, banana pudding is put on a pedestal every fall during the National Banana Pudding Festival and Cook-Off.

Food Editor Anne P. Braly is a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. Prior to pursuing a freelance career, she spent 21 years as food editor and feature writer at a regional newspaper.

Food Editor Anne P. Braly is a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. Prior to pursuing a freelance career, she spent 21 years as food editor and feature writer at a regional newspaper.

This year’s festival will be held Saturday and Sunday, October 4-5, with the cook-off set for Saturday. In addition to the cook-off, there will be two stages of free entertainment, from music and storytellers to puppets and dancers. In the craft area there will be demonstrations of blacksmithing, wood turning and pottery. Craft vendors will sell pottery, jewelry, forged iron, woodworking and art; and food vendors will offer everything from rib-eye steak sandwiches to bottomless root beer mugs with free refills.

  • Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (October 4); 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (October 5)
  • Admission: $5 per day. Free parking.
  • Location: Centerville River Park, Centerville, Tenn.
  • Online: bananapuddingfest.org

Make a diversion for a Southern excursion

By Matt Ledger

The golden age of American rail travel may have peaked nearly a century ago, but the fascination with the legacy of locomotives is still alive and well.

From the syncopated clickity-clack of steel wheels on rails, to the unmistakable howl of a steam whistle, the sensory overload of 19th century travel rekindles a connection with the past and gives us a window into a mode of transportation that has been romanticized for nearly 200 years.

Thankfully, there are still a wide variety of scenic train rides in operation throughout our country. This list of train excursions might help you find a new destination at an old railway station.

Tennessee Valley Railroad (Chattanooga)

All aboard for the first stop, a city with a name that is forever married to the railways that crisscross the South, in a foot-stomping big band song about a Tennessee train excursion: the “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”

Tennessee Valley Railroad in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Tennessee Valley Railroad in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

However, nowadays Glen Miller would need to wander over to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum to catch the next departure, with a choice of leaving from either Chattanooga or Etowah. It was founded in 1961 and is the largest operating historic rail museum in the Southeast. With seven outings planned for September, nothing could be finer than the “Dinner on the Diner” journey, featuring first-class gourmet meal offerings while riding in the ornate 1924 Pullman dining car.

The month begins with the 4th annual “Railfest” celebration on Sept. 6-7 featuring unique exhibits, blacksmith demonstrations and special excursions. Each weekend the Copperhill Special rolls from Etowah through the Hiwassee River Gorge during a daylong 93-mile circuit.  The Summerville Steam (the longest trip at 100 miles) and the Missionary Ridge Local explore the colorful fall splendor in October, in addition to the festive Halloween Eerie Express.


Big South Fork Scenic Railway (Stearns, Ky.)

Big South Fork Scenic Railway in Stearns, Kentucky.

Big South Fork Scenic Railway in Stearns, Kentucky.

The Big South Fork Scenic Railway, in Stearns, Kentucky, has a three-hour hop through the Daniel Boone National Forest during a 14-mile round trip to the Blue Heron Coal Mining Camp. Visitors can also tour the McCreary County Museum. A ghoulish two-hour nighttime journey awaits those who board the Blue Heron Ghost Train on Sept. 6 or the Haunted Hollow Express in mid-October. A half-price fare is available for grandparents on Sept. 7 or for those who served in the military on Nov. 8.


Heart of Dixie Railroad (Calera, Ala.)

The Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum is located in central Alabama, south of Birmingham. The 10-mile rail line runs from Calera to the historic Shelby Iron Works, which was operational during the Civil War era. Several miles of track were added through the years, allowing for numerous themed trips. Youngsters will enjoy a cornstalk maze and hayride during the Pumpkin Patch Express on weekends in October. Adults have their own opportunity to test drive a train and shovel some coal during the “At The Throttle” trip. A certified engineer and brakeman give directions as you guide the train down the tracks for your personal 30-minute excursion.


The Texas State Railroad (Rusk)

The Texas State Railroad in Rusk, Texas.

The Texas State Railroad in Rusk, Texas.

As the train’s durability quickly replaced the sporadic abilities of steamboats, America’s railways expanded westward deep in the heart of Texas in 1921. The Texas State Railroad has become quite famous over the years, garnering several appearances in TV series like Chuck Norris’ “Walker, Texas Ranger” and 16 films, including “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Rough Riders.” The TSR train depot, in Rusk, features campgrounds and numerous outdoor activities for the kids, ranging from a water playground to horseshoes and shuffleboard. Parents will certainly enjoy the Moonlight Special Dinner Train on Oct. 10 or a Fall Foliage Brunch Train on Nov. 9, as the seasonally themed Maydelle trip includes a savory meal and non-alcoholic beverages.


South Carolina Railroad Museum (Columbia)

The city that can lay claim to the nation’s first steam passenger train is Charleston (SC), with a six-mile track and a six-horsepower engine, which was opened like a gift, on Christmas Day 1830. However, the South Carolina Railroad Museum is located near Columbia in Winnsboro and features the Blue Granite Express, which typically operates on Saturdays. Passengers can opt for first-class, coach, open air or caboose seating during chartered, seasonal or special events.


Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (Bryson City, NC)

Combining gorgeous mountain vistas and numerous child-oriented train trips, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad might be the best whistle stop for the family. Tikes can join the PEANUTS gang while riding The Great Pumpkin Patch Express on weekends in October. An uncommon nighttime run on The Masquerade Train offers spooky scenery and a full buffet for those 21 and older on Oct. 31. The Tuckasegee Excursion will be free for current and prior military members from Nov. 7-9 in honor of Veterans Day.


Kentucky Railway Museum (New Haven)

Remain alert for clues while riding the Mystery Theatre train on Oct. 25 at the Kentucky Railway Museum. For those seeking 90-minute movie-like suspense, passengers can ride the rails for a good cause during the Train Robbery trip. Horse-mounted hooligans will hold up the train, with the loot benefiting the Crusade for Children charity for kids with special needs. On Oct. 11, the number of engines will vastly increase as the railway hosts their 3rd annual Vintage Car Show.


North Alabama Railroad Museum (Huntsville)

As summer begins to fade into fall, train enthusiasts can snap photos from an open-air baggage car during a short excursion from the North Alabama Railroad Museum in Huntsville.  Others may choose to relax in the renovated dining car during the Sept. 20 trip on the “North Alabamian.” Other trips include the Punkin’ Pickin’ Extravaganza on Oct. 11, Fall Color Specials on Oct 25 and Nov. 1, and Santa Trains on Dec. 6, 7 and 13.


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.


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.


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.”