#RuralisCool, Volume 1, Issue 59 | February 20, 2020


RTIME Opens with Industry Recap, Q&A with White House's Anne Hazlett

More than 2,000 leaders of rural broadband companies and their suppliers descended on Phoenix this week for the NTCA 2020 Rural Telecom Industry Meeting & EXPO (RTIME). The event featured educational sessions, panel discussions about emerging policy and business issues and motivational speakers on rural development and entrepreneurship topics.

NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield and Board Chairman Allen Hoopes, chief executive officer of Silver Star Communications (Freedom, Wyo.), provided updates about NTCA activities in the opening session on Monday.

Although NTCA is still evaluating the FCC’s latest plans for the Universal Service Fund, Hoopes said there are many reasons to be optimistic. He pointed to rural broadband’s important role in contributing to the U.S. economy and noted that NTCA is thinking ahead to what happens after Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) and other funding programs are completed, and is beginning to engage with policymakers about Universal Service Fund contribution mechanisms. He added that NTCA continues to engage in innovative thinking with members about the future.

Bloomfield cited some key successes that NTCA members have had, including that over 60% of NTCA members now offer broadband at speeds of at least 100 Mbps, including 25% that offer gigabit speeds.

Bloomfield also highlighted a range of initiatives that NTCA is working on, including:

  • A CyberShare program with the Department of Homeland Security aimed at helping protect NTCA member networks.
  • A program with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) that would give NTCA members access to NRECA purchasing programs that provide discounts on vehicles, office supplies and safety equipment.
  • An event on Capitol Hill on National Agriculture Day.
  • The Virtual Living Room program with CoBank that provides broadband-connected facilities where veterans can access telehealth resources. 

Anne Hazlett, senior adviser for rural affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), joined Bloomfield on stage for a Q&A that touched on the rural opioid crisis and the role that broadband and local broadband providers can play in combating it.

Hazlett noted that addressing the opioid crisis requires better education and prevention, strengthening efforts to stop illegal drugs produced outside the U.S. and recognizing that addiction is a disease.

“Someone who wants help should be able to get help quickly,” she observed.

Hazlett also recognized NTCA for the important role the association played in creating a resource guide about the opioid crisis and that NTCA members can help in addressing the opioid crisis, not only through the technology they provide but through the role that they play as leaders in their communities. By working with other local leaders, she told NTCA members that, “you have the power to connect the assets in your region to solve complex issues like addiction and to create resiliency for the future.”

RTIME also featured updates from the Foundation for Rural Service, an economic outlook from RTFC/CFC and a panel discussion about the future of universal service. Select portions of the opening and closing sessions are available on the NTCA Facebook page.

Nine Rural Telecom Leaders Earn NTCA Excellence Awards

NTCA has recognized nine rural telecommunications industry leaders for their achievements and service to the industry, their companies and their communities. The NTCA Excellence Awards are presented annually and winners are selected by the association’s Awards Committee which is comprised of NTCA members. This year’s awards were presented by NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield during the 2020 RTIME in Phoenix.

This year’s awardees are:

  • Jim Dauby, president and CEO of Perry-Spencer Rural Telephone Cooperative (St. Meinrad, Ind.), was awarded the Manager Life Achievement Award for his commitment to promoting rural broadband deployment, including his leadership on a successful fiber-to-the-home buildout and his involvement in creating the Indiana Fiber Network. 
  • Rodney Renner, board director at Golden West Telecommunications Cooperative (Wall, S.D.), received the Director Life Achievement Award for his commitment to growing an advanced telecommunications cooperative for rural South Dakotans during his 47-year tenure on the Golden West board.
  • Chad Larson, sales engineer at Consolidated Telephone Company (Brainerd, Minn.), was awarded the Special Achievement Award for his support of the Ronald McDonald House Motorcycle Rally in his community for over 11 years.  
  • Kirk Lehman, chief executive officer of RTC Communications (Montgomery, Ind.), received the Management Innovation Award for his vision and leadership in creating multiple new business offerings.
  • Jim Eaton, vice president of finance and administration at Pioneer Telephone Cooperative (Kingfisher, Okla.), was awarded the Key Employee Excellence Award for his role in transforming Pioneer into an industry leader during his 46 years of service. 
  • Jill Kohlhaas, senior dispatcher and plant record clerk at Madison Telephone Company (Staunton, Ill.), received a Heroism Award for her quick thinking and compassion to save an elderly woman from distress.
  • Jeff Powell, central office technician at North Central Telephone Cooperative (Lafayette, Tenn.), also received a Heroism Award for his bravery in the face of an armed gunman while conducting a home equipment check.
  • Andy Smith, managing director of the communications banking division at CoBank, received the Associate Member Outstanding Achievement Award for being an exemplary associate member, as evidenced by his leadership of the EXPO Plus networking event at RTIME, which helps associate members meet with telco managers to discuss industry trends and company challenges.
  • Kurt Gruendling, vice president of marketing and business development at Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom (Waitsfield, Vt.), received the Outstanding Marketing Achievement Award for his pursuit of marketing excellence as a longtime closely involved member of the NTCA Marketing Committee.

The 2020 Excellence Awards ceremony was live streamed on the NTCA Facebook page.


RTIME Attendees Get 'IN Step' with NTCA GHP Wellness Connections

RTIME attendees typically rack up some serious walking mileage, and this week was no exception! Attendees had the opportunity to participate in the NTCA Benefits Get IN Step with GHP Wellness Connections challenge, and leaders were recognized for their miles. Challenge participants simply kept track using the Rally mobile app or their own personal fitness devices and reported their mileage results to NTCA member relations managers during the two-day challenge period.  

“Members loved checking the leader board throughout the day to see who was winning,” said NTCA Member Relations Manager Jane Wigen. “Some of our members are very competitive, and many participants said, ‘let’s do this again!’”

Winners of the walking challenge are:

  • Fran Follis of Norvado (Cable, Wis.), who led the mileage check-in at the end of the day on Monday and Tuesday. Using her personal fitness device, she tracked total miles that also landed her at the top of the leader board as the overall challenge winner.
  • Jerry Brandt of PC Telcom (Holyoke, Colo.), won the mileage check-in at noon both days. According to his personal fitness tracking device, Brandt walked 11 miles by noon on Monday and another 11 miles by noon on Tuesday.
  • Joe Snyder of Citizens Mutual Tele. Coop. (Bloomfield, Iowa), who led the step challenge both days using the Rally app for NTCA’s GHP Wellness Connections plan.

Want to continue the challenge? NTCA member companies can encourage employees’ overall health and well-being with a workplace wellness plan. GHP Wellness Connections is a plan offered exclusively to NTCA members enrolled in the GHP medical plan. Ask your NTCA member relations manager for more information.


Additional NTCA Members Receive ReConnect Funding

Several additional NTCA member companies received millions of dollars in U.S. Department of Agriculture ReConnect funding to bring broadband to more rural Americans in Illinois and Tennessee.

Hamilton County Telephone Cooperative Corporation (Dahlgren, Ill.) received a $3.4 million grant to replace copper wire with fiber-optic cable wire, which will improve connectivity for 603 rural households, 12 farms, and a business in the county.

North Central Communications (Lafayette, Tenn.) received a $1.4 million grant to connect 164 households, 10 businesses, and 21 farms.

Peoples Telephone Company (D.B.A. TEC; Erin, Tenn.) received a $1 million grant and a $1 million loan to connect 642 households, two businesses, and five farms over four counties.

United Communications Inc. (Chapel Hill, Tenn.) received a $3.3 million grant to connect 2,716 households, 13 businesses, 12 farms, and a critical community facility over four counties.

Ben Lomand Holdings Inc. received a $2.2 million grant for a fiber-to-the-premises network connecting 222 households, six businesses, and three farms spread over 100 miles.


Notes in the News

NTCA joined a letter to the FCC asking the commission to set a spectrum aggregation limit for its C-band auction so that small carriers are not shut out of bidding. The letter also suggested the FCC mandate that no entity be allowed to acquire more than one-third of the spectrum in a geographical area.


RTIME Video Highlights