Episode 26

The Challenges of Rural Broadband

September 16, 2021

Episode Summary

John Greene, CEO of New Lisbon Telephone Company, co-led a session at the 2021 Fiber Connect conference discussing rural broadband challenges. In this episode, John points out several problems with providing broadband to rural communities, including obstacles and issues at the local, state and federal levels.

Show Notes

Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability. 

 

Mark Ohrenschall: Hi, I’m Mark Ohrenschall from NewsData. Our skilled journalists spend hundreds of hours each week researching, writing and editing content for our energy newsletters. For independent expert coverage of Western US electric and natural gas issues, visit NewsData.com for your free trial subscription.

Intro: Broadband. We need it for work and for school, for our health and our economy. What’s being done to bring broadband internet access within reach of every American? Let’s talk about it now on Rural Broadband Today. Here’s your host, Stephen Smith.

Andy Johns: And thanks for tuning in to the latest episode of Rural Broadband Today. I am not Stephen Smith. This is Andy Johns, substituting as the podcast host for Stephen here at the Fiber Connect 2021 Conference for the Fiber Broadband Association. Today, we’re taking a look at the people and issues shaping the rural broadband story. And I’m excited to have you join us. My guest today is John Greene, who is CEO of the New Lisbon Telephone Company in New Lisbon, Indiana. John, thanks for joining me.

John Greene: Thank you very much for the invitation. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Andy Johns: Perfect. I am, too. You probably noticed the background noise. Like we normally say on these podcasts, it’s not background noise. It’s ambience because we’re here at the center of the broadband world this week. We are at the Fiber Broadband Association, Fiber Connect 2021 here in Nashville, Tennessee. And John was nice enough to take a minute during the time here to talk with us for this episode. And he is part of a session tomorrow called “The Rural Broadband Challenges,” which is something that I know a lot of listeners can relate to. So I’m looking forward to the panel tomorrow.

John Greene: It should be a very interesting panel.

Andy Johns: Got it. Now, there are providers who are here at this conference. It’s a little different than a lot of the conferences I normally go to because we have bigger providers here. We have folks that are serving more urban areas than most of the rural folks than we normally have on the podcast. But I’m glad that they’ve still made sure to put a spot on the program for some rural broadband talk. So give us a preview then, John, before the panel tomorrow, what are some of the things that you’re going to be touching on when the topic comes up on the panel about the challenges of rural broadband?

John Greene: Well, I’m going to be on the panel with Joseph Franell. He’s an operator in rural Oregon, a much, much larger territory than what we do with New Lisbon or Pennsylvania Telephone Company, but a lot of the same issues. And Joe and I have both kind of talked about the topics and how we’re going to handle the topics. And what we’ve decided is that the best thing to do is just take very little time talking about our companies and just open it up to the floor for questions. But from a challenge standpoint, they’re all over the board. You’ve got supply chain issues, getting materials. That’s really raised its ugly head here in the last year since Covid. You’ve got labor issues, and we’re like every other business, and then some. We’re not an entry level type of labor market. We have to have people with a lot of training, computer expertise, et cetera. It’s getting harder and harder to find people. And then you throw on top of that billions of dollars that are being thrown at broadband build outs, so everybody is looking to hire people to do this work. So it’s getting more difficult there.

Andy Johns: That’s a recipe for a labor shortage.

John Greene: It absolutely is. And then you throw in on top of that, all of the different agencies at both the state and federal level, all the different funding programs. It’s a potpourri of funding programs, and quite frankly, it’s very confusing. And one of the things we’re going to touch on tomorrow is the coordination between these different agencies or the lack thereof, which is really the issue. So we’ve got state programs that have grants that the federal government is not aware of. So you get a kind of a classic over-build situation. We’ve got federal programs that the state says, “well, we’re not aware of that. So you need to let us know.” They don’t coordinate. I mean, you’ve got RUS. You’ve got the FCC programs. You’ve got USAC involved. Congress is involved in legislation. NTIA is involved. There are so many different agencies that are involved right now in broadband that they’re stepping on each other. They’re stumbling around, trying to figure out what to do. There is no one broadband czar, if you will, agency that says, “OK, let’s get all of this together. Let’s make a plan. Let’s figure out how do we fund it, and let’s all march to the same drummer.” They’re not doing that. They’re all marching to different drummers. And as a small provider, it’s very confusing.

Andy Johns: And labor intensive using people and time you don’t have to chase all of those.

John Greene: Well, that is another issue. That as a small provider, you know, when you’ve only got 20 or 30 employees, you can’t afford to dedicate an employee just to chasing down grants, loan opportunities, this, that and the other. So then you have to go out to consultants on the outside, and there’s an added cost there with coordination efforts.

Andy Johns: Consultants aren’t cheap.

John Greene: Consultants are not cheap, and especially good ones. But the other thing is, I’ve got a working friend of mine that has a saying. He says “When there’s a lot of money involved, bad actors always come out of the woods.” And I think we saw that years ago during the Obama administration with some of the BIP and BTOP money. People went out and overbuilt other entities. Or they started networks, and they never completed them. I think we’re going to see a lot of the same thing, because, quite frankly, I don’t think that, especially at the federal level, they’re not doing the level of due diligence for these bidders and these winners that they should be doing. You know, there’s a lot of examples. That I get money, but I’m not going to build a network because I don’t have to, because nobody really knows whether I have or not. Or I get money and I start to build the network, and I don’t finish it. Or I get money, and RDOF is a good example. I think you’re going to see some of the big winners walk away from areas of RDOF simply because they bid on it thinking they were going to be able to build it. Then when they do a little further due diligence, they realize that it doesn’t cash flow, and they’re going to say, “you know what, I’ll pay the penalty and walk away from it.” Which sounds okay at face value, but (A) the penalties are much too small. And (B) if they walk away from it, how long will it be before those areas are able to get any type of broadband? Is it going to be another five years, another 10 years? So these programs, if you don’t do them right up front, rural customers suffer. And that’s the problem. Now, one thing I like about a lot of the state programs, is the much narrower timeframes. A lot of the state programs that are grants, they’re not spreading that money like, say, RDOF over a 10-year period. So we are an RDOF winner in Indiana. So if we’re going to spend, let’s just take a number $3,000,000 to do the construction, and I get $300,000 over 10 years, you know, I have to bear the cost of that construction in year one, two and three. And I don’t get anything until the entire 10 years is up.

Andy Johns: Right. I can see how that would be a challenge.

John Greene: It absolutely is. Whereas a lot of the state grant programs, they’ll say, “OK, we’re going to give you 50, 60, 80 percent of a grant, but you have to have it built, turned up and working, operating within two years.” It’s a very short time frame…

Andy Johns: It has its own challenges, for sure.

John Greene: That’s absolutely true, but let’s face it. We are here to provide service for potential customers. If it takes five or six years to build a network, customers are doing without for that period of time. State grants say, “Nope, we want you to do it in two years, and if you can’t do it, we’ll find somebody else that can.”

Andy Johns: So a couple of things. I guess I should have done this at the beginning, but the experience that you have in rural broadband, I guess, number one, you got that in a couple of states now. But tell us just a little bit about New Lisbon Telephone Company, and then NLBC and the new area that you guys have moved into. Give us a little background on the company.

John Greene: Sure. And, I guess I’ll preface that by, not necessarily a history of my work in the business, but I’ve worked in rural areas in Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska, Indiana and Pennsylvania. So I have worked in a very large part of this country, predominantly in rural areas. And so I feel like I know a little bit about it.

Andy Johns: Sounds like it.

John Greene: It’s interesting when you say “rural,” it means different things in different place.

Andy Johns: That is true.

John Greene: So if I go to rural Indiana or rural Pennsylvania and we measure X number of customers per mile — let’s say in Indiana, we might average four or five customers per mile. You get in areas like eastern Montana, and it may be one customer for 10 miles. So, you know, they’re all rural, but there’s a vast difference. So you have to look at it from a perspective of what makes sense in those particular areas. You know, east of the Mississippi, for the most part, I would say that fiber-to-the-home is going to be a very good competitor for any broadband. When you get west of the Mississippi, there are some areas in states like Wyoming and Montana that are so sparsely populated that fiber will never, ever work. It’ll never pencil out because you’ll be spending $30,000-40,000 per customer. So maybe a LEO satellite or a fixed wireless solution is better, and maybe they’ll never have the same level of broadband that somebody living in this part of the country will have. And that’s a tough thing to say if you’re a politician. But at the same time, it’s reality.

Andy Johns: Yeah. It’s tough to figure out how those $59-79 per month internet service payments are going to add up to the number [of expenses].

John Greene: Absolutely. So if you contrast Indiana to Pennsylvania — the two companies that we run today. In Indiana, 80-90% of our construction is buried. We don’t have a lot of problem with rock. We don’t have a lot of problem with many houses per mile. So you can plow a lot of it. But even still, buried plant, we average about $40,000 dollars a mile, and that’s an all-in cost. Whereas in Pennsylvania, it’s the other way around. It’s 80-90% is aerial because it’s rock, except in the valley. There if you’re looking at aerial plant — not counting make ready and pay attachments, but just the pure cost of construction — you may get by with $25,000 per mile. So you’ve all automatically got a little a discrepancy there between the cost of the build. Now, that’s assuming the fiber cable and the labor and everything else is the same. In Pennsylvania, we do have a little more density, though. So that’s another factor that enters into it.

Andy Johns: Sure. And there are so many pieces of it, you know, as we’re putting it together. Well, let’s talk big picture for a moment, because rural parts of America and rural broadband is something you’ve obviously dedicated a lot of years of your life to focusing on. 

John Greene: More years than you’ve been alive.

Andy Johns: That’s possible. 

John Greene: Unfortunately.

Andy Johns: So there are other places you could go to make more money, or there are other things that you could have done. Why do you feel that rural connectivity is so important? Why is it worth fighting these challenges?

John Greene: Well, one of the things that we always tell people as a small rural provider is unlike the AT&T or the Comcast — and I pick on them a lot simply because they’re the biggest. They’re easy targets. But unlike AT&T and Comcast, I live in the rural area. I’m using our wireless service, and I don’t like it nearly as much as if I had fiber. Now I’m going to get fiber in the next two years. That’s a good thing. But not only am I using the services that we have, and I see the issues. So when we have a heavy ice storm, I lose connectivity. Or if a wind storm blows an antenna out of alignment or if there’s an electrical storm and it knocks out my radios, I see the issues with that. I know what it’s like to sit down on a Sunday evening and want to watch a TV show over the Internet, and my Internet goes down.

Andy Johns: It’s not fun.

John Greene: It’s not fun. The other side of it is, not only do we live in the areas, but we go to church in the areas. We shop in the area. We have neighbors. We see these people that are our customers every single day. You can’t hide. But I can wear my NLBC logo shirt and go to the grocery store, and I’ll likely run into three or four people. And most of the time — not all the time, but most of the time — it’s either to say, “I love your service. You guys do a great job.” Or “I know somebody or a relative that has it, and I wish I could get it.” And that’s what keeps us fired up and keeps us going back. So we’re not a co-operative. We’re a for-profit stockholder company. But all of my stockholders are rural residents for the most part, and a lot of them are my customers. So they’re in the same situation. So even though we don’t have the cooperative mentality that we’re not here to make a profit. Yes, we are here to make a profit. But most importantly, we’re here to provide reliable, affordable broadband service that everybody likes. And, you know, they’re talking about the NPS scores this morning. I think it was C Spire and they had a 67 on their own their NPS score, which is very high. Our company scored a 65, which is very high, which means most of my customers are pretty happy with the services get.

Andy Johns: What do you think — and let’s take a side trip down that conversation — what do you think it is that does that? I mean, what do you think it is that they are? Because if you look at the scores for the big guys who you mentioned earlier, they’re nowhere near that. They are a whole lot lower. 

John Greene: Yeah, in some cases, negative.

Andy Johns: Right. What do you think it is? What do you guys do that you think has people that are so happy to work with you guys?

John Greene: Well, I mean, you could say part of it is because it’s affordable. And I think our service is affordable. But we don’t base it on, we want to be the low cost provider. We may be, but that’s not what drives us. It’s more of the reliability and the good customer service. So when a customer calls in and they’ve got a problem, if it’s early enough in the day, we’ll dispatch somebody on it that day and fix the problem. Or we’ll call a tech that’s in the field already and say, “Stop by Joe Smith’s house on the way back. He’s got a problem with his internet.” You know, we don’t keep people out of service for days or weeks. And I can tell you that, I hate to say this, but one of the best marketing tools we have is when the local provider in our competitive area has a big outage. We go around knocking on doors. It’s like, “Oh, you know, you’ve been out on the internet now for, what, three days? We’ve got fiber across the street. We can get it hooked up. And I guarantee you, you’re not going to ever be out for three days again.” And it works.

Andy Johns: No, it’s smart. Don’t let a crisis go by without seeing it as an opportunity.

John Greene: Take every advantage we can. But I think it’s the stellar customer service. That’s probably the number one reason why people like our service, why they flock to us. We actually, unlike the hospitality business that really tanked last year, airlines and restaurants and hotels, etc. Our business last year skyrocketed.

Andy Johns: I believe it.

John Greene: We had a record year for new installs. We almost completed our regulated ILEC area as far as fiber to the home. We did complete it earlier this year. So we’re down to less than 50 customers on the old copper network. And quite frankly, we’re getting those cut over every week. By the end of this year, copper is gone, and it’s 100% fiber. But what we found was that we had a lot of customers in our competitive area that while they were okay with substandard internet before Covid, now they’ve got kids doing school from home.

Andy Johns: That was me.

John Greene: They’re trying to work from home. They’re doing Zoom meetings with their family. I mean, we’ve all done that now, and we didn’t do that before. Before we would just go visit them. Now, it’s like, “No, I can’t go visit them because they’re in another state, and I don’t want to travel.” So we would have customers call and say, “How soon can you hook us up with fiber?” It’s like, well, it’s going to take us a week or two because we’ve got to get everything scheduled, or we have to have a permit, or we have to do the locates. They couldn’t get it quick enough. We literally could not keep up with the influx of new customer requests last year. And so far, it’s continued into this year. You had mentioned earlier talking about NLBC and…

Andy Johns: Yeah, that’s where I was headed next. So you guys have the other company, I guess another branch or subsidiary there in Pennsylvania. You’ve got the ILEC in Indiana and then a CLEC. So you guys have changed a little bit about the way that you talk about yourself, both with the new brand for the CLEC, and then communicating through purchasing the company in Pennsylvania. Talk me through just a little bit about how over the last few years you’ve changed the way that you talked about yourself, and what do you think you can credit the success both in Pennsylvania and Indiana for people understanding who you are and what you do now?

John Greene: Sure. So when I started seven years ago, we had no CLEC. We were just a small ILEC with 500-600 customers, and that was it. A lot of telephone customers. Of course, since most of them have migrated to cell phones even in the last seven years. But we didn’t do anything outside of our regulated area. So New Lisbon Telephone Company has been around for 120 years, 1901.

Andy Johns: I saw that. That’s one of the older ones you hear about.

John Greene: Absolutely. It’s like the third oldest in the state of Indiana, and a lot older than most of the small companies that you run across. But yet people in our own county didn’t even know we existed. They’d never heard of us because we never ventured out of that one little quarter section of the county. So the first thing that I did when we started is we put together a CLEC, and we called it New Lisbon Broadband and Communications, because you got to have broadband in there, because that’s the platinum service now that we sell. The biggest obstacle we had when we’re going into areas that were served by AT&T, Frontier or Comcast is “Well, who is New Lisbon Broadband? We’ve never heard of you.”

Andy Johns: You don’t have quite the TV commercial budget that some of those other guys pouring on there.

John Greene: Now the one thing that was good is we didn’t have the negative name recognition either. So we’re starting with a clean slate, but we did a massive marketing campaign. We do ads in local newspapers. We do billboards along the roads of the communities. We do radio spots.

John Greene: I’ve got a vice president of marketing and sales that spent a lot of time in radio, and he’s very storied in the state of Indiana as an announcer because he does all of the Indiana state high school basketball and wrestling tournaments and playoffs. Perfect radio voice. So he does all of our commercials. But the bottom line is we’ve been flooding the airwaves, the newspapers, etc. with marketing. But most importantly is you get one or two anchor companies and each little area or anchor residence, and if they like your service, they’re going to wave that banner for you. So word-of-mouth is just as important as all the marketing media in the world in a rural area. Now, Pennsylvania’s a little different. They have no communities. I mean, literally, there are no incorporated or even unincorporated communities. It’s just little small areas where there might be 30 or 40 homes kind of in a grouping. Little or no billboards. TV and radio was all the big cities somewhere else. So we’re going to have to change our marketing tact a little bit. So we’re going to go more with the traditional old school: yard signs, door hangers. You know, show up for church there on a Sunday morning and just talk to people real quick and say, “Hey, by the way, and we’re doing this.” Anything you can do to get the word out. But despite all the marketing methods, even in Pennsylvania, word-of-mouth is still a very powerful tool for marketing.

Andy Johns: Sure, when you can find those champions that will really, like you said, wave the banner for you. 

John Greene: Absolutely.

Andy Johns: Getting back to more of the rural broadband challenge, what we started off there — sorry for taking a little detour through customer satisfaction and branding. Those are always top of mind for me. But getting back to the rural broadband challenges, what are some of the things you think that people don’t understand about rural broadband? You know, right now, like you said, there’s money being thrown around. So both politically and I’m not talking about either side of the aisle in Congress. I mean, there’s a lot of attention the last several years. Rural broadband is a thing that’s getting a lot of attention. What do you think that the people who are late to the game, the people who are just now showing up to the game, what do they not understand about rural broadband, the folks like yourself who’ve been doing it a while know?

John Greene: Well, I think the first thing is you have to define what is “rural broadband.” Is rural broadband the community of a 1,000, 1,500 or 2,500 people? In my opinion, no. I think there are very few communities of size, and I’m talking about 1,000 to 1,500 and greater. Very few communities of size in this country that can’t say they’ve got at least one decent broadband provider. Now, there are some out there, and audience don’t shoot me for saying that.

Andy Johns: It’s a big country. I’m sure there are some exceptions.

John Greene: But for the most part, the communities are not bad. It’s not the donut hole. It’s the donut. So your traditional cable TV providers stopped at the edge of town, and then there was nothing. You know, they talked about municipal broadband and open broadband networks and things like that this morning in some of the panel discussions. But you didn’t hear anybody talking about “We’re going to build out into the cornfields in the rural areas.” No, they were talking about “We’re going to overbuild the communities.” Well, everybody goes after the same target, and that’s because of population density. If I can hit 15 customers per block instead of one and a half per mile, I’m going to get a better return on my dollar. It’s going to be cheaper to build. It’s going to be much more revenue. And I’m going to get a quicker ROI — return on my investment. The problem is everybody is ignoring the donut. And that’s where companies like mine have excelled over the years is by our nature, we don’t have the communities. We have everything in between the communities. The only other entity, that’s a recent entrance into broadband that looks at it in a similar perspective is your rural electric cooperatives.

Andy Johns: And there are quite a few of those here.

John Greene: They do, and they have exactly the same situation. Because what happens is as soon as a community usually incorporates, the REMC gets kicked out. An investor-owned company comes in, and they’re stuck with what’s left. So they understand the idea about rural is once you get to the town limits or the city limits, it’s everything outside of that. But some of these other entities, I don’t think they’re really looking at rural broadband in the same respect that we do.

John Greene: One of the biggest obstacles that I think we have to overcome, going back to the different agencies is the FCC is kind of the czar, if you will, of everything broadband in this country. If you look at it and you can argue that we’ve got a lot of convoluted rules. The 477 is not worth anything. We want to get better mapping. The way the money is handed out. The FCC made all of those rules. Those are all FCC mandates. If there’s a problem in this country that that we’re not putting money in the right locations, or we’re not giving money to the right people, or we’re not focusing on the right, I hate to say this, but you have to lay it at the FCC’s feet and say “You built this thing. These are your rules that we’re following. If it’s not working, it’s not our fault. We’re following the rules. You have to clean up your own house.” And I think that’s part of the issue is. Think about it, it’s back to the politics. Every four years or eight years. You know, the Republican or Democrat takes over. The FCC does a fruit basket turnover. The incoming chairman doesn’t agree with the outgoing chairman, so everything changes. There is not a lot of continuity from one administration to another.

Andy Johns: That’s a good point.

John Greene: So Commissioner Pai’s initiatives that he started, probably not going to continue if Acting Commissioner Rosenworcel gets appointed as commissioner. She’s probably going to throw a lot of them out the window and say, “We’re going to start from scratch.” But every time you do that, you just go back to square one, and that makes it difficult. And it especially makes it difficult for service providers trying to figure out which way the winds are blowing. Okay, last week we were going to work on this, but now we got a new regime, we got to work on something different. 

Andy Johns: One of the things that we’ve seen change over the years, and you brought it up. I was going to ask about that, too. In the state of Indiana, how are things going with the electric co-ops, with the existing ILECs? Are you all getting along pretty well and not overbuilding, or how would you say things are going there?

John Greene: I would say for the most part, things are going well. The reason I say that there are a lot of instances where rural electric co-ops and rural telephone or service providers are working in some type of a partnership. I’ve got three different electric cooperatives that I work with. And in all three cases, to some level, we’ve got some type of a partnership. If it’s nothing more than, you know, we get a little bit of a break maybe on our make-ready work where we’re putting fiber in. Now of the three, none of them have decided to get into the broadband business. There are a couple of instances where the electric co-ops have overbuilt broadband cooperatives. And that leaves a bad taste in everybody’s mouth because it’s like, look, you’re both kind of in the same arena, you’re both cooperatives, you’re both rural companies. Can’t you kind of divide things up and work together? But anytime you get personalities involved, people don’t get along and you have to chalk it up to that. But no, I think for the most part, I think that it’s been good partnerships. It’s been good working relationships. I think that I can probably speak for both the small telcos as well as the REMCs that we were all sadly disappointed in the results of our RDOF. We saw instances in some cases where large bidders or bidders that got a lot of money, dropped the bid down to 10-5%. In cases in Texas, I’ve heard they’ve even got down to 0%. I know that in areas that we bid on that the percentage has dropped below 20-25%, and I’m out. It can’t be built for that. So there’s a big question now that everybody is asking is, “OK, if the small guys that are in the area that already have a certain amount of infrastructure or in the case of the electric cooperatives, they own the pole lines. If they can’t make it work for, say, 25-30%, how can a big company or another company from out of state come in with with no employees, no infrastructure, no idea of the lay of the land, and do it appreciably cheaper?” I think the answer is they can’t. So it goes back to we’re disappointed because we don’t think the FCC did the due diligence upfront, but time will tell. I personally, I think (A) you’re going to see some companies fail, but it won’t be until five or six years that you see there. And the question is, will the FCC say that’s “OK, we’ll give you an extension” like they have the big companies like CenturyLink and Frontier, when they missed their obligations. (B) You’re going to see some companies that will walk away from areas and say, “We took a second look at it, and we can’t make any money, so we’re not going to do it.” But that kicks the can down the road and those people don’t get service. So I think it’s unfortunate that if any of that occurs, I think it’s unfortunate because the net loser is that rural resident that doesn’t get service.

Andy Johns: And who knows when the political will will be there again to get those kind of dollar signs out there for folks like that, for sure.

John Greene: Well, and one other point is, it actually doubles up. It’s worse than that, because, again, the coordination between programs — for instance, our state grant program says if there’s already an RDOF winner, we’re not going to award any money. I’ve got three counties that I know vast areas are unserved. But they were all awarded RDOF winnings. So I’m not able to go in and get any grant money to build that out from the state knowing that some of those areas are not going to get built. So if one agency somewhere screws up, it has a ripple effect across everybody else. It’s the same issue with the bar, and that’s another obstacle we talk about is, is do we set the bar too low? And the answer is absolutely we do. Is 25/3 adequate? No, you can’t do a Zoom call with 25/3.

Andy Johns: Especially not with the three side of that.

John Greene: Exactly. So why are we still stuck on a measurement that was set several years ago, knowing that we’re building stuff now for 10 years? By the time it gets built to 25/3, it’ll be 15 years out of date. So why don’t we keep the threshold, not based on what we need today or, God forbid, like we’ve got now, yesterday. Why don’t we extrapolate out? There’s a lot of studies out there. Use those studies and say the next threshold ought to be 100 symmetrical or a gigabit. And if you’re going to get federal or state dollars to build it, then you have to build it to this level. Now, a lot of people have said that, but a lot of people are whining about it. Other companies are whining about it, saying, “Well, you’re playing favorites.” No, what we’re doing is, we’re betting on the future, not the past.

Andy Johns: Absolutely. The last thing I had for you here, and I appreciate you sharing all those insights for us, what are one or two things to do to fix some of these rural broadband challenges? I don’t know, if you’ve got a magic wand and can wave it over to solve a couple of these things. But as we wrap up here, kind of looking towards the future, what are some things that make you hopeful that you see, we might be, maybe we’re getting better at or maybe there are some changes coming that you think can help fix some of these?

John Greene: So there’s several areas I think you can focus on. One we just talked about. Don’t worry about the technology. Focus on what you want to do. If I say I want to get a hundred symmetrical, I don’t care if you do it with wireless, with satellite or with fiber. This is what you have to do. Low latency, 100 mbps up and 100 mbps down, if that’s the bar. It should be technology neutral, but don’t bend the rules to favor a technology. In other words, don’t say, “Well, we’ll do 100/20, because if we do a 100 symmetrical, then the wireless companies can’t play.” You know what? Too bad. If the wireless companies can’t play, then it’s because their technology is not up to the game. The other thing is, you got to get the mapping, correct. You’ve got to be able to go in and reasonably say this one is served, or that one is served, and this one’s not served, so that everybody can get service. Because customers don’t understand the fact that nobody on my street has service, but somebody a mile away does. And that means I can’t get it.

Andy Johns: That doesn’t make any sense to the customers.

John Greene: It makes no sense whatsoever. The third thing is coordination of effort between all the different agencies. If you have to roll it up, roll it up to one agency. You know, you got three or four different federal agencies all playing in this space. Why? Why don’t you have just one? Make it simple. And I think if you do that, you’ll find a lot less waste, a lot less overlap. And then the other thing that that is frustrating is the whole supply chain and labor issues. You know, when I hear that we can’t get electronics in the broadband world because all of the chip sets are being sent to the three big automakers so they can produce trucks and cars. I’m thinking now, wait a minute. The last I heard, they weren’t putting billions of dollars into automobiles, and there wasn’t an automobile shortage. But there is a broadband shortage. So why aren’t we focusing all of our efforts on getting that problem solved? So we’ve got a little disconnect there.

Andy Johns: Sounds like it. Well, thank you so much for all those insights. He is John Greene. He’s CEO of New Lisbon Telephone Company in Indiana. John, thanks for joining me.

John Greene: Thank you very much. My pleasure.

Andy Johns: And thank you for listening to Rural Broadband Today, where we take a look at the people and the issues shaping the rural broadband story across America. I’m your host, Andy Johns, filling in for Stephen Smith. And this program is produced by WordSouth — A Content Marketing Company, an affiliation with Pioneer Utility Resources. Please share this episode with your network and help us tell the rural broadband story. Thank you for listening.

Outro: Rural Broadband Today is a production of WordSouth — A Content Marketing Company.

Subscribe to our podcast

Apple Podcast Google Podcast Spotify Podcast