By Josh Seidemann, VP of Policy, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association
Telework. Business Incubator. Shared workspace. These are terms that were not part of American nomenclature when the National Rural Economic Developers Association (NREDA) was founded in 1989. At that time, rural telephone and electric cooperatives gathered to brainstorm ideas for marketing rural areas as competitive and low-cost alternatives for business investment.
Fast-forward 30 years and telework has taken off. A recent article in The New Yorker magazine describes how Teleworks USA has created more than 600 work-from-home jobs in a rural Appalachian community. Smart Rural Communities Showcase award winners have been recognized for supporting broadband-powered business incubators. And rural “co-work” spaces have been profiled in a national magazine.
Until recently, however, membership in NREDA was limited to cooperatives and/or RUS eligible utilities. While this structure leveraged the commitment to community that is inherent in the “cooperative principles,” it left untapped the vast resources and experiences of many small, locally-operated, commercial communications providers. But at its annual meeting in Kansas City last month, NREDA membership voted a by-laws amendment that now allows commercial rural communications providers to contribute their expertise to a growing force of rural economic development.
NTCA sits on the board of NREDA, alongside telephone and electric coop members and organizations that include CFC, NRTC and Touchstone Energy. NTCA helped author the by-laws amendment, which mirrors language from the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to meet the unique position of NREDA within the community of rural and economic development associations.
NTCA and its member companies have demonstrated their commitment to local economic development, notably through Smart Rural Communities and initiatives supported by the Foundation for Rural Service. In future weeks and months, NTCA and NREDA will work together to inform rural telecom companies of our new opportunity to work together to leverage broadband to create rural resilience, opportunity and future.