Wednesday, January 12, 2011

About Rural TeleCommentary and The Author

For my first official post, I would like to share my goals and objectives of starting Rural TeleCommentary. Additionally, I will include some slightly humorous/scary anecdotes that have inspired me to try harder to make my voice--and the voice of the rural telecom industry--heard loud and clear in an industry where "the little guy" is very often overlooked, or completely disregarded. Next, I will talk briefly about my background in telecommunications, my education and my career goals; and conclude with a preview of what's to come on Rural TeleCommentary in the near future.

Why Rural TeleCommentary?  It is no surprise that there hundreds--if not thousands--of telecommunications news websites, newsletters, blogs, etc. that already exist on the wonderful World Wide Web, in addition to FCC releases, state commission proceedings, association white papers, and so on. I understand the challenge ahead for me to promote this blog as something that should be frequently checked and read by people in the rural telecommunications industry. This is why I want to try to offer editorial perspectives on FCC decisions rather than just "straight news." I hope to make critical analysis, debate and intellectual discussion a unique and active aspect of this blog. I also want to try to provide useful information, such as comment summaries for relevant proceedings, that people in the industry may find valuable and worth reading.

Now for the background anecdote... Several months ago I attended a telecommunications conference and a reception for a highly respected individual in the telecommunications industry (my former teacher, Dale Hatfield). I had the pleasure of talking to a number of FCC staffers at these events, both socially and in a conference setting. I was completely alarmed by some of the responses I received by FCC staffers when I said that I worked in the rural telecommunications industry. Some looked at me like I was crazy. One made a snide remake about how the rurals have so much money they don't even know what to do with it, hence USF is being wasted by some guy sitting in a barn on a pile of fiber rings. The next day, at the conference, I got into a debate about the future of the rural telecommunications industry, re: funding. Someone from the FCC actually asked me:

        "Do you think all the rural telephone companies should just merge?"

I was appalled. I wanted to say some pretty mean things, but in fear of being blacklisted from future events I calmly explained that the logistics of trying to merge hundreds of small independent companies all across the country is literally enough to make your head explode simply because all of the independents have vastly different corporate structures (cooperative, private owned, family owned, shareholders, etc.) and serve vastly different populations, geographic locations, and demographics. I don't even want to think of what that merger review process would be like, much less how would hundreds of small companies--many of which have existed for over 100 years--decide on a fair and equitable corporate governance structure? So if we make all the independent telephone companies merge, why not make all the independent public utilities merge, then make all the independent grocery stores and gas stations merge, then all the clothing stores, restaurants and movie theaters. While we are at it, how about we have just one big farm owned by one corporation and get rid of those pesky small farmers once and for all. Oh wait, we just became communists. It is a slippery slope, and I was really scared by the fact that someone representing our telecom regulator had actually contemplated the idea of making all independent telephone companies merge. Not only did this person seem completely clueless about the nature of the rural telecom industry, but another also added this little gem:

       "Aren't there only like 1 or 2 rural telephone companies left in the U.S.?"

Once again, I reserved my anger towards this hysterical question and responded by saying no, there are hundreds of independent phone companies that provide vital and state-of-the-art services to rural and remote communities across the country. These companies do some truly amazing things for their communities and at least deserve to be recognized as EXISTING. I do take it a little personal when someone tells me that my family's 95 year old company doesn't exist...and if it does exist, it should probably merge.

The moral of these stories is that although there is an abundance of information available about the rural telecommunications industry, the people who make and contribute to regulatory decisions may not know beans about the rural telecommunications industry. It is therefore up to the rural telecom advocates to make our voices heard. Hopefully, to an audience that is willing to listen.

Cassandra Heyne, Rural Telecom Advocate: I have literally been in the rural telecom industry my entire life. My family has owned and operated Walnut Communications in Walnut, Iowa (population 800) since 1915, and I spent many days during my childhood watching my grandfather do business at the phone company, listening to conversations between my grandfather and father about company strategies, and basically soaking in all kinds of valuable knowledge about how a small phone company operates. My grandfather, Clifford Heyne, is my inspiration to continue the family tradition in this industry. When I was young, he constantly encouraged me to take my education as far as possible and do anything I could dream of doing in telecommunications--law, engineering, management, consulting--anything! After achieving a B.A. in History from the George Washington University, I decided to pursue a Master's in Telecommunications with a focus on telecom policy, law and regulation. I was briefly in the (no longer existing) Telecommunications master's program at GWU prior to transferring to the renowned Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program at the University of Colorado. Additionally, I earned a Master's in Legal Administration from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  Now I am finally on the cusp of completing my Telecommunications degree, once my Master's thesis is complete (more on this topic in a few weeks). I also recently completed a very interesting and valuable internship at a small telecom law firm in Washington DC, where I was able to sharpen my research and writing skills and get into the habit of critically analyzing every proceeding the FCC released during the last few months, and analyzing rulemakings, inquiries and orders from the perspective of independent telecom companies.Prior to this, I worked for a major rural telecommunications advocacy association, and (though sometimes I don't want to admit it) for a "Big 4" wireless company. So now with some extra free time on my hands, I thought it would be an interesting project for me to start a blog on rural telecommunications issues. This blog is partially for me, so I can have a portfolio of written and "published" work to present as I begin the great search for a permanent job in the next few months; and this blog is for my audience--however large or small it may be. I am completely open to feedback, comments, critique, corrections and ideas from my audience, and I hope to eventually have some interesting debates and discussions about telecom policy!

What's Next? Next week reply comments are due in the Mobility Fund proceeding, so I plan to write a very short review of the initial comments that were submitted last month and a more detailed summary of the replies. I was really impressed with some of the initial comments because many respondents came out against the evil proposal known as reverse auctions. I will also provide my own critique of reverse auctions and the Mobility Fund proposal. I would like to tackle my favorite topic of late, Net Neutrality, but I'm still trying to simmer down from my frustration with that whole situation so that article may be a few weeks away. I am also hoping to look closely at some of the technologies presented at CES last week, and do some quick reviews on some of the ones that may be exciting for rural telecom companies.

Readers: Please feel free to submit requests or ideas for how I can reach wider audience! Please feel free to pass this link along to your colleagues!

Until next time,

1 comment:

  1. Having just watched It's a Wonderful Life a few hundred times over the holidays, the concept of forcing the rural telcos to merge smacks of the efforts by mean Mr. Potter to close the savings and loan. It would take from the citizens of each particular rural community their control over their own telecommunications capabilities, and turn the country into one big Potterville. But of course, the reason all of these small rural cooperatives and family-owned independents exist is because the last Potterville (Ma Bell) did not see enough profit in small rural communities to extend service there.