NTCA Members Step Up to Keep Rural America Connected in Wake of COVID-19

Photo credit: Ben Lomand Communications (McMinnville, Tenn.) is moving its mobile Wi-fi van throughout its serving area to allow families to get online 24/7

By Laura Withers 

Under normal circumstances, keeping the Wi-fi humming is a necessity for a number of common homelife activities—shopping online, staying connected with loved ones through video chats, and enjoying a movie on Netflix. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Internet connectivity has become a vital resource for countless families to work from home, help school children stay connected to schoolwork online and making telemedicine available when traveling to the doctor’s office is not possible. 

As the pandemic started to unfold, NTCA encouraged our small broadband provider members to share what they are doing to help their communities. More than 250 NTCA member companies have signed the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge, committing to not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay; waive any late fees that residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances; and open Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them. 

NTCA members have heeded the calls of their communities—taking to the airwaves and local TV stations to share what they are doing to keep people safe and connected. 

“It's always a blessing to be from a rural community, but I am so grateful in times like this to see how we are such an example for the rest of the state and the nation,” Russell (Rusty) A. Moore, general manager and chief operating officer of BBT (Alpine, Texas), told Alpine Radio KVLF. BBT developed a solution combining fiber and fixed wireless to extend its school districts’ network to students’ homes in a temporary installation package that provides synchronous connectivity and basic home Wi-fi. 

Michael Burrow, president and CEO of NineStar Connect (Greenfield, Ind.), told the Greenfield Daily Reporter that a local hospital reached out to the utility asking if fiber-optic cable could be connected to a clinic in time for its opening in a few days. The nearest fiber was about 1,800 feet away and getting permits normally takes weeks. 

“On Friday afternoon, it felt like we were down 9-0 in the seventh inning,” George Plisinski, manager of telecom operations for NineStar, told the newspaper. With help from state authorities, permission was granted later that day, allowing NineStar to make the connections over the weekend. 

Premier Communications (Sioux Center, Iowa), which represents 28 communities in northwest Iowa, shared its commitment to serving customers, telling KIWA radio listeners that extra Internet use has not taxed its network during the pandemic. 

“Being a community provider that we are ... we recognize the value and the importance of having that connectivity,” said Chief Executive Officer Doug Boone. “We realize too there are lots of students home from school, lots of people working from home, there are a lot of challenges on people being able to pay their bill. We really want to be a positive corporate citizen as we work through all of this together.” 

Many more companies have stepped up, and NTCA is sharing their stories on the Coronavirus Resource Center and social media using #NTCACares.  

Do you have a story to share? Contact us at communications@ntca.org

Laura Withers is vice president of strategic communications at NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association.