Ag Broadband Summit Recap and Reflections

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, each American farmer produces enough food and fiber to feed 154 people in the United States and abroad. If that statistic isn’t enough to convince you of the relevance and importance of a strong, healthy agricultural economy, in 2011 agriculture and agriculture-related industries contributed $742.6 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product, a 4.8% share. While the United States may not be as ag-heavy of an economy as when our country was first were founded, the agriculture industry has taken full advantage of broadband-enabled technology to make international food production more efficient, sustainable and affordable.

On Monday, April 14, NTCA member and Smart Rural Community award-winner Blue Valley Tele-Communications, based in Home, Kansas, partnered with Kansas State University (KSU) and NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association to host an Agriculture Broadband Summit. The summit agenda included speakers from KSU’s Beef Cattle Institute, Kansas Fiber Network, Kansas Farm Bureau, and even Don Landoll, the Kansas-born founder and chairman of international equipment manufacturer Landoll Corporation. Speakers provided incredible insight based upon their respective industries—from the impressive technologies emerging in the ag world, to the dangers of security breaches now that an increasing amount of information is available via broadband networks. If you missed the event, be sure to check it out on YouTubeRead more

Survey: NTCA Members Continue to Surmount Obstacles to Provide Wireless Service

Small rural carriers are providing high-quality wireless service to the nation’s hardest-to-serve areas, but must face serious ongoing challenges to do so, according a recently-conducted NTCA survey of its member companies’ wireless operations.

NTCA’s 2013 Wireless Survey Report collects the results of the survey, which was distributed to member companies in the fall of 2013. More than 100 NTCA member companies participated.

Eighty percent of survey respondents provide wireless service to their customers. Of those, 82% offer fixed broadband, 49% mobile voice, 43% mobile broadband and 29% fixed voice service.

Among the challenges cited by survey respondents was obtaining financing for wireless operations, obtaining access to spectrum and competing with nationwide carriers. More than 40% of survey respondents described the process of obtaining financing for their wireless projects as “very difficult” or “virtually impossible.”

Forty-six percent of survey respondents reported utilizing unlicensed spectrum to provide some wireless services, despite interference and line-of-sight problems.

NTCA member companies are rewarded for their efforts by customer loyalty: 41% of survey respondents experience annual customer churn of less than 10%, and 50% reported average churn rates between 10 and 25%, well below the FCC’s most recent estimate of an industry-wide churn rate of 24 to 35% annually.

Smart Rural Surprises

Smart Rural Community buttons(Chicago)  – NTCA recognized seven locally owned broadband providers as supporting “Smart Rural Communities” this morning at its Fall Conference in Chicago. But the takeaway (in my opinion, at least) is not the seven providers who were part of nearly two dozen that submitted applications in a competitive process (though, nor should their accomplishments be overlooked; more on that later). The takeaway was delivered in August when the Smart Rural Community Advisory Committee (SRCAC) convened to review the applications.

The SRCAC is composed of a diverse group that includes not only telecom experts but also representatives from education (as well as rural education, specifically), rural economic development, telemedicine and finance. The intellectual contributions of the SRCAC has broadened the scope of considerations in Smart Rural Community planning. That was represented in part during the review process, in which substantial scoring weight was given to examining how applicant broadband providers had collaborated with local leaders in their respective communities. Read more

ATVA Video Calls for Update of Retrans Consent Rules

The American Television Alliance, which includes NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, formed a number of years ago when telephone, cable, and satellite companies of all sizes saw the dramatic increase of threats of blackouts from broadcasters demanding incredible increases in retransmission consent fees.

In an effort to protect consumers and re-inject market forces into the negotiation process, the ATVA was created to help the FCC and Congress see that outdated retransmission reform rules have not kept pace with changes in technology and the marketplace.

Originally intended to protect localism, the rules now provide broadcasters with the ability to engage in “take it or leave it” tactics that result in cable TV rate increases that far outpace inflation. The ATVA has released a new video to illustrate that the old rules are outdated, and urge consumers to contact Congress in support of reform

‘Who are Three People Who Have Never Used Broadband in My Kitchen?’

Spoiler alert: this post is about the NTCA Smart Rural Community initiative and is intended to encourage members to participate in the awards nomination process; applications are due July 31. SRC-logo (2)

Fans of the 1982-1993 television series “Cheers” may remember an episode in which barfly know-it-all Cliff Clavin secures a spot on Jeopardy. In the final round, Cliff squanders a nearly $20,000 lead when he writes a technically correct, yet unsatisfactory question to the Final Jeopardy challenge of “Archibald Leach, Bernard Schwartz and Lucille LeSuerer,” asking, “Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?” (If you can find the clip, it’s worth a look.)

Several months ago, I confessed a sense of discomfort when I blog about various developments in the tech world or market trends because I am never quite sure whether I am simply sharing information of which readers are already aware. So, technically, it’s “news” – to me. Whether it’s news to readers is another matter, but I always bank on the average that the information might be fresh to at least a few. Read more

Ag Department Affirms Rural Relevance, Future

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack made news (or waves, depending upon how you read the news) last December when he addressed the Farm Forum and urged rural America toward a fresh approach to National politics.

Why is it that we don’t have a Farm Bill? It isn’t just a difference of policy. It’s the fact that the Rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that, and we better begin to reverse it. That means a couple of things. It means, first of all, a new attitude in Rural America, not just trying to preserve what we’ve got – and there’s a lot of that thought process, “I’m just going to hang onto what I have” – replacing that preservation mindset with a growth mindset. Where are the opportunities?

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Additional information on the Smart Rural Community Initiative can be found at or by emailing

Last week, the USDA puts some money on the Secretary’s words and announced that it is accepting applications for grants for education, training and health care in rural areas; the funding is provided through the Ag Department’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program and coincides with the NTCA Smart Rural Community (SRC) initiative.

Grants may total a collective $175.5 million; single awards may be funded up to $500,000. Applicants must demonstrate at least 15% in matching funds, and the awards may be used for cap-ex and technical assistance. Prior awards have been used for distance learning and to purchase medical equipment. Additional information can be found here. Read more

TelcoVision to Address Broadband Trends

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, has historically played an integral educational role in the development and deployment of rural video solutions. This began back in 2001 when NTCA produced an event called Video over Copper, which was held in Indianapolis, Ind., and just after the 9-11 terrorist attacks on our country. Record numbers of rural telecom providers converged in Indianapolis to learn about the new enterprise of offering video as a service over a broadband connection despite the lingering fear of airline travel. At that time, many rural telcos were well down the road in deploying DSL technologies as an upgrade and improvement to dial-up connections. Subscribers were beginning to acquire a “need for speed,” however fiber-to-the-home deployments were hard to find — anywhere.  Read more

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