Part II with Shirley Bloomfield: A focus on advocacy

FierceTelecom: I know you have been in the position for just six days, but do have any initial goals to follow on the work that your predecessor set?
Bloomfield:
I'd really like to see us have a renewed emphasis on our advocacy. I think there are so many more players out there and voices at the table on the Hill and at the FCC. In old the days all you worried about was Rural Utility Service (RUS) funding and how you codified RUS. My top goal is to make sure we put a renewed emphasis on our advocacy. We have members that are all so unique. Telling their story and understanding why the challenges of doing business in providing services are unique in Western New Mexico versus the challenges of doing it in Montana. I'd like to get our members engaged even more in taking up some of that storytelling and some of the fact finding that the FCC and members of Congress would like to have right now. What is the real situation out there, not an academic perspective, but in reality, what are the challenges these guys are facing? That's one of the first things I'd like to do.

Because the NTCA's member goals are so tied to the rural communities, I'd really like us as a trade association to tie more into economic development as rural communities embrace and deploy broadband.

FierceTelecom: The ongoing doling out of ARRA funds to smaller service providers has gotten a lot of attention over the past year. What do you believe are the key challenges and opportunities for rural broadband?
Bloomfield:
There's a two-fold issue. On one hand, it's the ability to do the deployment. For our guys that becomes the issue of having revenue streams you can count on. USF has been very key in being able to work through rate of return regulation. All those things have put a lot of plant in the ground.

Then, you have the deployment issue. How can you convince rural communities that these services are valuable and that broadband is more than fast e-mail service? How do you convince them what broadband can do for public safety, education and health care and creating jobs? We have seen adoption rates go up, but they're not at the pace you'd like to think it could move and I think there's some interesting things that administration has thrown out on that. I think that's been secondary right now, but I think that will be an interesting step on this. Then, it's a chicken vs. the egg phenomenon in that do folks have equipment out in these rural areas, do they have access to computers, and how will telephone companies make that easier? It's not like you're walking down to Best Buy and buying a computer and you have help desk. Some of those challenges need to be overcome.

NTCA Barriers to Broadband Deployment

FierceTelecom: Are the ARRA funds enough to make an impact on expanding broadband to truly underserved areas?
Bloomfield: Every little bit helps, right? You look at the two rounds of that funding and we did have members involved on that. With this only being day six on the job, the anecdotes I have heard is what they have done, and how they worked with their communities because the process encouraged community interaction. By getting broadband out there to some of these unserved areas where you have no economic incentive to do it, I think the stimulus was very effective. I think we also felt like that there were some changes between round one and round two that made it more user friendly for the small telcos. You're not going to get it everywhere and there's only so far that those dollars can go, but I think it has been really effective in terms of job creation. We won't be able to know that until some of the construction gets underway.

The other thing I think it will do is have some impact in terms of the secondary markets for some of those suppliers and vendors such as Corning and Cisco. I think we'll see a multiplier effect on that.

Part II with Shirley Bloomfield: A focus on advocacy
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