This week, hundreds of managers, directors, employees and advocates from rural telecom providers across the country stormed Capitol Hill for the 2011 The NTCA Legislative & Policy Conference. I attended the conference and participated in the Hill visits to Congressional staff members with a wonderful group from Iowa! I will provide a detailed review of the activities later this week, but for now I wanted to post some pictures that I took at the various events.
Larry Strickling, US Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary of NTIA kicked off the conference on Monday. Strickling discussed the new National Broadband Map (including the controversial inaccuracies), broadband adoption in the US, and the importance of connecting anchor institutions with high-speed broadband in rural communities. Pictured below is Strickling with NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield:
Attendees were treated to a special appearance by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski before lunch on Monday, March 21. Genachowski answered questions asked by Ms. Bloomfield about the principles of Universal Service, the Universal Service NPRM, the National Broadband Plan, market concentration, and infrastructure investment challenges. A moment of this candid conversation is shown below:
Also notable was the Tuesday, March 22 breakfast session with Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture and former Governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack. Vilsack delivered an empowering speech about the importance of rural America, emphasizing that rural areas are the source for the nation's foods, fibers and fuels. Vilsack shared our concerns about aging and declining rural populations and the economic challenges in rural communities that rural telecom providers strive to overcome by expanding access to broadband Internet. Vilsack commented that rural America is not widely understood by lawmakers, and it is necessary to advocate and educate others about the relevance and importance of rural communities to our nation's culture and economy. Vilsack, pictured below with Bloomfield, is truly tuned in to the needs of rural communities, and his speech was very empowering, motivating and memorable:
The conference concluded with visits to House and Senate staff members (the Congressmen and women unfortunately were on recess this week). The Iowa delegation had a very successful day of lobbying, and I believe we really made an impact on the Congressional staff members that we met with throughout the day. We primarily focused on our concerns related to the Universal Service Reform USF and the National Broadband Plan, as these are immediate issues that will have significant long term ramifications on rural telecom providers in Iowa. We provided the staff members with information about our unique companies and communities, and emphasized that rural telecom providers have been extremely successful in providing high-speed broadband to rural areas under the current USF regime--but some of the proposed changes to USF may prevent future infrastructure investments and threaten the financial security of our companies. I really hope our message was heard! Shown below is the entire Iowa group in front of Bullfeathers restaurant on Capitol Hill, and me with my father (Bruce Heyne, CEO of Walnut Communications) in front of the Longworth House Office Building.
Finally, I was really pleased that the Cherry Blossoms were already starting to bloom! I live in DC but I don't usually take the time to go down to the National Mall and see them (too many tourists!), so I happily took a few pictures of the trees by the Hart Senate Building.
Stay tuned for a more detailed article about the issues that rural telecom providers are facing in the USF NPRM and several other critical issues that were discussed at the conference!
If you are a new reader who I met at the conference and you would like to learn more about Rural TeleCommentary, I encourage you to read New Reader? Welcome to Rural TeleCommentary! and About Rural TeleCommentary and The Author.