Local Makes the Difference

“Regardless of your corporate structure, whether you are cooperative, you’re a family held your locally held, the fact that you are local is really what makes the difference,” says Shirley Bloomfield, NTCA CEO. Speaking at Fiber Connect 2021, it is encouraging to Bloomfield that the White House is talking about the importance of local entities in not only bringing broadband to rural America but in bringing the associated applications to create smart rural communities.

She cites the example of how a general manager of an NTCA member, broadband provider helped connect a local health clinic to remote patients. This telemedicine application was inspired by the challenges of bringing his mother to the doctor for periodic heart monitoring visits.

Bloomfield points to North Dakota, where 99.8% of schoolchildren were connected to online learning within three weeks. The foundation for this statewide, private-public effort was the robust fiber networks initiated by the local providers that collectively 96% of the state.

Broadband access is not an issue for people living in NTCA member service territories. The challenge is affordability. The FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a new, consumer-centric initiative to address affordability. Bloomfield advises that awareness and onboarding are two of the challenges of this nascent program.

Bloomfield cautions Congress as it attempts to create a permanent program to address affordability. Her concern is that the program could inadvertently lead to government rate-setting and lead to disincentives for investment in high-cost markets. She cites recent legislation in New York to regulate broadband rates as an example of rules that would disincentivize investment and innovation.¹

Interview Highlights:

  • 00:26 – 99.8% of North Dakota students connected within three weeks.
  • 01:28 – Community-based providers are key regardless of corporate structure
  • 02:37 – A telco general manager saw the need for telemedicine through his mother’s healthcare challenges
  • 03:30 – NTCA has been a champion of smart rural communities
  • 04:29 – Access and affordability are two of the challenges to closing the digital divide
  • 06:05 – There is potential for rate regulation if legislation is not properly structured
  • 07:19 – The challenges of promoting the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

¹ This legality of this legislation is currently in the court system.


Fiber Connect 2021 coverage is made possible by Calix.