Electric-Telco Partnership Summit Shows Mutual Value in Collaboration

Last week’s Electric-Telco Partnership Summit, orchestrated by the National Rural Telecommunication Cooperative (NRTC), NTCA and others, presented a number of situations where carriers and electric utilities have found mutually beneficial ways to leverage one another’s strengths to expand and improve broadband services to customers. There appears to be an encouraging and growing awareness that rural carriers in particular have unique experience and skills when it comes to deploying, managing and maintaining broadband networks. There are many details to consider, but more carriers and utilities are showing that challenges can often be overcome if both parties decide to work together.

Last week’s summit served as a preview of sorts, as this concept will be covered in depth at the upcoming IP Possibilities Conference and Expo this April in a special track focused on collaboration. Technical and business tracks will also be offered, along with informative general sessions. The conversation on collaboration was initiated at the summit, as a dynamic group of more than 100 attendees, representing both carriers and utilities, heard success stories from around the nation. One of the items covered by presenters was that one of the first hurdles is often initiating a discussion with the right people. If a mutual understanding can be reached, collaborative action leading to results can be implemented. Read more

Survey: NTCA Members Face Challenges in Providing Wireless Service

More of the nation’s small, independent telecommunications providers are planning to begin offering wireless service as part of continuing efforts to round out their communications offerings to consumers, but competition and negotiating roaming agreements with large national carriers continues to pose significant challenges, according to a new survey by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association.

The association’s “2014 Wireless Survey Report” found that 66% of respondents are providing wireless service to their customers. Eighty percent of those providing wireless service offer fixed broadband, 48% mobile voice, 41% mobile broadband and 23% fixed voice. Fifty-one percent of survey respondents indicated that they hold at least one wireless license below 2.3 GHz; 20% hold at least one license above 2.3 GHz. Thirty-five percent of survey respondents not currently offering wireless service are considering doing so.

However, survey respondents indicated that the pressures created by national carriers and the ability to negotiate roaming agreements with such carriers are among the most significant challenges affecting smaller competitors. Specifically, 73% of all respondents indicated that competition from nationwide carriers was their greatest concern, with 45% also citing the ability to negotiate roaming agreements.

Small wireless providers have little leverage in negotiating roaming agreements with larger carriers, as nearly half of survey respondents indicated that obtaining roaming agreements remains an ongoing concern. Many of those who are able to enter into an agreement end up paying the price—approximately one-third of survey respondents indicated they pay more for roaming than they themselves are paid.

NTCA’s wireless survey was conducted in the fall of 2014. More than 100 NTCA member companies participated.

I Found My Smart in San Francisco

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Roger Nishi of Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom, Waitsfield, Vermont (SRC Showcase 2014), hoists a Smart Rural Community road sign.

For as long as I can remember, my Dad has had a love affair with San Francisco. It manifested itself in numerous photographs and trinkets that littered the walls and bookcases of his state office in Ohio.  I have never asked why, and I probably should. Maybe it was the romance of the streetcars, or the bay, or the getting back west for a Seattle resident who moved east for school and then the army.

But I noticed the impact of all the years visiting my Dad at his office and seeing the pictures and mementos from Chinatown when I attended the NTCA Fall Conference last week – scenes that I had never seen seemed somewhat familiar, and while taking in the architecture and landscape and sense of the city, I found myself thinking, “This must be one of those things Dad likes.”

I have probably commented here numerous, if not too numerous, times, the notion of understanding something fully only when you see and experience it. In those contexts, I have mentioned my own surprise and learning curves – things like “windshield time” and visits to farms and cities in the further corners of the so-called flyover states. Read more

NTCA, ITTA, Telecompetitor: Driving the ‘New Normal’ at BroadbandVision 2014

I spent part of last weekend in New York City visiting a friend in the hospital. My friend and I grew up in the same Midwestern city. She moved to New York for school and decided, somewhat inexplicably, that big city living beats things like fresh air, grass and easy street parking. The hospital was only several blocks away from where she went to grad school, and I joked that in all these years she had not gotten very far. And, as I walked the surrounding area, I was reminded that even in New York, there are communities – each neighborhood has its own flavor, its own distinctive atmosphere, and given the population density, nearly all the resources one could conceivably need for regular daily living.

But, this post is not about ruminations about city living or what I saw outside the hospital – it’s about what I saw inside the hospital, and the amazing things that, curiously, did not amaze me.

Hospitals are filled with lights and sounds – everything from a basic IV drip to advanced medical technology beeps and illuminates, so there is every expectation that a patient’s room can look a little like Mardi Gras with all the blinking lights. The flickers that caught my eye most, however, were the small blue LEDs in the ceiling: the ones set into Cisco WiFi routers. Read more

Despite QRA’s Demise, Uncertainty Still Impacts RLECs

While the FCC’s recent decision to eliminate the Quantile Regression Analysis (QRA) as a means of determining USF support has removed a significant source of uncertainty impacting NTCA member companies, the question of what will take the place of QRA continues to shape their investment decisions.

According to NTCA’s recently released 2013 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report, 80% of survey respondents indicated that regulatory uncertainty remains a barrier to fiber deployment, second only to cost (92%).

The overall broadband take rate for survey respondents was 72%. The most popular speed tier offered was 3.0 to 4.0 Mbps, the choice of 34% of responding companies’ customers.

Forty-six percent of respondents serve their broadband customers via digital copper loop, while 29% utilize Fiber to the Home (FTTH) and 12% Fiber to the Node (FTTN).

More than half of all respondents—53%—offer “stand alone” DSL service. Nineteen percent of respondents currently offer Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and an additional 62% plan to do so in the foreseeable future.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents currently offer video, while an additional 2% plan to do so by year-end 2016.

Twenty-seven percent of NTCA’s member companies participated in the annual survey, which was conducted in late 2013.

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.

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