By Laura Withers
The Rural Telecom Industry Meeting & EXPO (RTIME) is always a joyful, hectic and energizing event, and the 2020 conference brought an even larger display of rural innovation as NTCA members spread over three hotels and a convention center gathered in downtown Phoenix. Here are five ways RTIME and NTCA members are accelerating innovation in small-town America in 2020.
- Connection is an antidote to addiction. NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield spoke to Ann Hazlett, senior advisor for Rural Affairs at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, about the growing opioid epidemic in rural America and how access to broadband technology through telemedicine and connections to others can help more people overcome the disease of addiction.
- Strategic innovation initiatives are making a difference. Keynote speakers Jeff DeGraff and Brent Comstock shared strategies for instilling innovation at work and in civic life by using the power of people passionate about rural development to make communities more successful. Comstock, who founded a digital marketing agency in small-town Nebraska as a high schooler, charged NTCA members with rewriting the negative headlines about rural America by engaging young people in entrepreneurship initiatives.
- Broadband partnerships are multiplying. Michael Burrow of NineStar Connect (Greenfield, Ind.) joined Dustin Durden of Pineland Telephone Cooperative (Metter, Ga.) and Jonathan West of Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative (Gainesboro, Tenn.) to discuss partnerships with rural electric cooperatives and other entities that have proved successful for all involved (Pineland also recently announced a merger with a technology solutions and managed IT provider). When session participants were asked if they are considering a partnership, more than half the hands in the room shot up.
- Smart Rural Communities℠ are getting active. RTIME 2020 featured a demonstration through virtual reality of a Kansas farming operation supported by Rainbow Telecommunications Association (Everest, Kan.) and a panel discussion with the farm’s operator Jeremy Olson and Rainbow’s Jason Smith about the benefits of broadband-supported precision agriculture. The standing-room-only event in the RTIME EXPO capped off with NTCA members donning Oculus VR headsets to step inside a Smart Rural Community℠ from the hustle of the Phoenix Convention Center.
- Individual excellence is advancing rural communities. The annual NTCA Excellence Awards recognize individual achievements in eight categories, and the 2019 award winners are exceptional leaders driving innovation and change in their companies and communities. NTCA’s work to share their stories online has generated more than 1,000 views of the awards ceremony on Facebook.
The 2021 RTIME will take place February 21–24, 2021, at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. See you there!
Laura Withers is vice president of strategic communications at NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association.