We read an interesting paper recently from atmail, one of our Premier Associate Members, titled How to Convert Your Email Platform from Loss to Profit

In an industry first, atmail went out and found the email pricing from 367 telco, ISP, and hosting providers worldwide, to help educate all of us about how much telcos charge for customer email services.

It’s probably no surprise that most telcos either undercharge for their email service, or don’t charge for email at all (because they typically include email as part of a phone/internet bundle). But with the data that atmail found, this study certainly challenges the long-held belief that consumers won’t pay for email. 

What we liked about this study was the level of detail that atmail has included. They shared dollar figures for email subscription pricing, email upsell pricing, examples of best practice, case studies, and more.

If you offer an email service to your customers, you might like to check out atmail’s free report here.

Cartoon - Did you forget to charge for it?
‘Half of the numbers are accurate, that’s why we’re auditing the remaining 56%.’

On January 15th the White House announced that Narda Jones will become the Legislative Director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  She tells me that she’s a “day one” employee meaning she starts work for the Biden Administration on day one of his presidency.

Many of you have had an opportunity to spend time with Narda as she’s traveled to your offices, attended our conferences and met with groups of us both in DC and here in our Washington.  It always amazed me that someone raised in Brooklyn had so much interest in and understanding of rural broadband.  As we look forward to infrastructure packages and new legislation it is comforting to know that we have Narda in our corner.

The attached photo seems appropriate for Narda’s new job as we’re sitting in a boat on Budd Inlet, near Olympia, looking at the eclipse.  I’m wearing a Pioneer Telephone cap.

The full story about the Office of Science and Technology Policy is below.

https://buildbackbetter.gov/press-releases/president-elect-biden-announces-key-members-of-his-white-house-science-team/

In late October Whidbey Telecom became only the second recipient of a USDA ReConnect grant in the state of Washington.  In addition, USDA Washington State Director for Rural Development Kirk Pearson presented Whidbey Telecom with the Washington State Infrastructure Award of Excellence for their efforts to provide high-speed broadband to their customers.  Whidbey Telecom will use the ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect underserved residents and businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Point Roberts, Washington.

George Henny, Whidbey Telecom Co-CEO was thrilled to receive the award saying “we’re honored to be the recipient of the USDA Award of Excellence, recognizing the Whidbey Telecom commitment to keeping our communities connected.” 

As for the ReConnect grant, George went on to say that “like the South Whidbey fiber construction project, this will be a multi-phase, multi-year endeavor. The USDA ReConnect grant is just a start.  We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to put together a plan to fund and build a fiber broadband network in Point Roberts.”

Picture of Whidbey Telecom receiving the Washington State Infrastructure Award of Excellence.
Pictured, L to R:  Kirk Pearson, USDA Washington State Director for Rural Development
George Henny – Co-CEO Whidbey Telecom
Moanalei McManus – Whidbey Telecom, Regulatory Specialist

The full USDA press release can be found here:  https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2020/10/22/trump-administration-invests-596000-high-speed-broadband-rural

Picture of an example chart of a speed test chart that is produced from NISC testing software
Picture above is an example chart of a speed test chart that is produced from NISC testing software.

The FCC speed and latency test requirements are quickly approaching for many companies.  The details are starting to be finalized. NISC is closely following these updates, not only from a regulatory perspective but also from a technical perspective. During a recent Webex presentation, Ryan Larson, Senior Strategy & Marketing Manager from NISC, gave an overview of the requirements and an update on items that NISC has discovered during their cooperative testing with residential gateway manufacturers and service providers.

July-2020-WITA-Broadband-Speed-Testing-Update

Ryan Larson
Sr. Product Strategy & Marketing Manager | National Information Solutions Cooperative®

“These are the communities that we serve; our friends and neighbors. We have a duty to do what is right during times of crisis.” James Brooks, Inland Telephone Company.

I’ve spoken with many of our members in the last few days, all of whom are reaching out to their local communities to see how they can help them through the COVID 19 pandemic. Many are setting up hot spots, many are reaching out to their local schools to ensure that kids can continue to learn from home, and all have waived late fees and discontinued cut-offs. Some are even looking at ways to help people get back on their feet once our country is back to work.

Inland Telephone’s efforts cover all the bases. This story is just one example of why Doug Weis, Inland Telephone Company President, was awarded the President’s Award last year. We were finally able to catch up with Doug and give him his award at the ITA Showcase this spring.

Inland Telephone Company’s Roslyn exchange has FTTH and full coverage. They light-up the entire downtown of Roslyn with Wi-Fi every summer for the Farmers Market and their techs have been told to turn that up now. Inland Telephone Company is currently working with the Roslyn-Cle Elum school district to get those students that do not have service today turned-up. This also includes Cle Elum and South Cle Elum where they have a broadband CLEC.

Inland Telephone Company is not turning down requests for service in any of their exchanges: Dewatto, Prescott, Roslyn, and Uniontown.

They just concluded working with the Colton School District in Uniontown; connecting five households covering twenty students that were identified as needing broadband. Inland Telephone Company is not charging for the service or for the emergency student connections during this period of crisis.

Inland Telephone Company has suspended disconnects and late pay fees. When things get back to normal, they are committed to working with those subscribers that have become economically challenged during this crisis on payment plans.

It’s an honor and a blessing to work with companies like Inland Telephone; companies like all of our members.

550 households in the upper part of Lake Cushman will finally have access to high-speed Internet thanks to a USDA Communities Connect grant to Hood Canal Communications.  Days ago, HCC also opened a new community center to serve this very remote, rugged area.

Lake Cushman is a beautiful man-made lake in Mason County, Washington featuring dense forestation and mountainous terrain.  It has been a popular seasonal destination that is quickly becoming a desirable option for full time living as real estate prices increase and inventory availability decrease in the region.

The grant application and the project have the support of many community partners including the Lake Cushman Maintenance Company HOA, the Skokomish Tribe, and numerous home and property owners in the affected area.  Sincere gratitude is expressed for the support of many residents, businesses and elected officials such as Governor Jay Inslee, Congressman Derek Kilmer, Congressman Denny Heck, Senator Patty Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell, State Senator Tim Sheldon, State Representative Drew MacEwen, and Mason County Commissioners Kevin Shutty, Terri Jeffreys, and Randy Neatherlin.  Dozens of local citizens wrote letters of support asking the USDA for funding.

HCC’s grant application was denied in 2016 and resubmitted in 2017 which resulted in the company being awarded $2.3 million.

HCC-Community-Center-Interior

The Washington State Legislature adjourned their session in late April but WITA staff and members have been plenty busy with issues both related to the extension of the State Universal Communications Fund and with other issues of importance.

Just before session ended Mike Oblizalo, Hood Canal Communications, was invited to testify before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. This is an enormously important committee to our industry as much of the legislation related to telecommunications must be approved here before moving on to the full Senate. Mike was invited to talk about the importance of accurate broadband maps and if you haven’t viewed the hearing you can find it here: https://www.ntca.org/ruraliscool/publications/ruraliscool/vol1-issue17-04112019

Betty Buckley has been traveling the state talking with legislators, attending public hearings on the new overtime rules, and participating on broadband panels at events such as the Washington Economic Development Association’s Summer Conference.

WITA President Rick Vitzthum and our esteemed counsel Rick Finnigan have been meeting with staff at the Utilities and Transportation Commission to craft rules for the new and improved state fund. This year’s funds will be distributed according to the existing rules but the following four years funds may be used specifically for broadband buildout and that will require a new rulemaking. You can expect to see a special meeting of the Active Members called to discuss these in detail within a few weeks.

Next month Eric Trump, St. John Telephone and Colfax Cable, and Dale Merten from ToledoTel will be speaking at workshops being sponsored by the Washington State Department of Commerce and USDA’s ReConnect program. Their presentations will focus on how their companies use technology to help their communities in innovative ways. The workshops will be held on September 15th in Olympia and on September 19th in Davenport. Watch here for more information and registration: https://www.usda.gov/reconnect/events

Plans are being finalized for our Leadership Conference at Alderbrook on October 14th and 15th. We’ll also be holding an Outside Plant Seminar at the same location on October 16th. Both events will focus on issues such as the new rules for performance testing, cybersecurity, new grant and loan opportunities and ways in which to enhance the value of your existing system. See out Events tab to register today!

Betty Buckley, Executive Director, WITA
Rural Broadband: It’s what we do.
It’s who we are.
509.690.0530

Congratulations to Doug Weis, winner of the Pioneer Award, and R J DelMese who received this year’s President’s Award.  R J received his award at this year’s annual meeting, which was held in Salishan, in recognition for his work on our scholarship and accounting committees.  R J has also ensured that Moss Adams is a frequent sponsor to WITA events such as our Leadership Conference.  He’s also volunteered hours of time as a trainer for our accounting seminars as well as preparing comments and background data for legislative hearings and similar forums.

The Pioneer Award is no longer given out on an annual basis.  Instead, it’s only awarded when the committee feels that someone is especially deserving.  This year it took the committee no time at all to determine that Doug Weis fits that description both in terms of his career and his personal approach to life.    Unfortunately, Doug was not scheduled to join us at Salishan so we made arrangements for Steve Hanson to present him with a certificate commemorating his award during a fishing trip a few days before our meeting.  Rick Finnigan, James Brooks, Greg Maras and several of Doug’s family members were also in attendance.  We plan on presenting Doug with the actual ward at this fall’s Leadership Conference.

In addition to these awards Unitel presented WITA with a giant check for $3242 (we already deposited the real check) to be used for safety training and our friends at the ITA presented us with a $4000 donation to our scholarship account. 

It’s great to have so much to celebrate!

After hundreds of meetings, phone calls and emails plus testimony by WITA
members at dozens of legislative hearings the State Universal Communications
Fund has been extended for an additional five years.  While there are still
some budget issues to be resolved, hopefully during next year’s legislative
session, we should all take time to celebrate this monumental occasion.

Mike Oblizalo, Rick Vitzthum, Steve Appelo, Dan Coyne and Skip Haynes were
able to join others who supported SSB 5511 when Governor Inslee signed it
into law last Monday.  In addition to extending the State Fund it allows
those funds to be used for maintenance and deployment of broadband; the fund
was originally established to support only voice service.  It also gives the
UTC the ability to remove the urban rate floor as one of the criteria for
fund distributions.  

Thank you again to everyone who helped make this happen!

OLYMPIA — Over the next two years, Washington plans to lend $14.44 million and give another $7.11 million to public agencies, tribes and businesses to bring high-speed internet to rural areas and Indian reservations.

The money, set aside in the new two-year capital budget, is a fraction of the $1 billion the Washington Independent Telecommunications Association estimates will be needed to blanket the state with service that meets the federal definition of high-speed internet.

Because the funding will be mostly loans, the program may not do much to introduce internet to isolated areas with few paying customers, the association’s executive director, Betty Buckley, said May 2.

“If we could make money or even repay a loan, we’d have done it already,” said Buckley, who represents 18 small companies that serve rural areas.

“We are cutting out the really remote areas,” she said. “Everyone wants to make rural broadband happen, but no one wants to pay for it.”

Opening an office in the Department of Commerce to oversee broadband expansion received bipartisan support from legislators. Lawmakers also directed the state’s public works board to distribute $21.55 million for high-speed internet projects.

Presumably, legislators will continue to allocate more money in future budgets, and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office likely will advocate a larger share to put in grants, according to an adviser.

Early in the session, the governor’s office suggested a 50-50 split between loans and grants. In most unserved areas, only grants will make sense, according to the adviser.

The rules will favor projects on tribal lands, in rural counties or urban areas with high unemployment or low incomes. An internet service provider will have a chance to object to a competitor getting public money.

The state has set a goal of making high-speed internet available to every home and business by 2024. The Federal Communications Commission defines high-speed internet as download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second.

Netflix, the video provider, recommends the slower 5 megabits per second to view movies in high-definition and 25 megabits per second for “ultra high-definition.”

The USDA awards grants to bring “sufficient” internet service to rural areas. The agency defines sufficient as 10 megabits per second.

“We can have a brand-new federally funded service and layer state money right on top of it,” Buckley said.

In a really tough budgetary year, we are happy to be walking away with any level of funding for broadband so I would chalk it up as a win. In the future we will likely continue to advocate for a greater percentage of overall funding to be in grants.

The definition of broadband internet continues to evolve, according to a USDA report released Tuesday. As technology advances, famers likely will need faster internet speeds, the report states.

The Washington Farm Bureau put a high priority on passing the rural broadband bill. According to the FCC’s latest survey, nearly all the state’s 6 million urban residents can have high-speed internet at their homes or businesses. But nearly 1 in 10 of the state’s 1 million rural residents can’t.

“We’re very excited it passed,” Farm Bureau associate director of government relations Bre Elsey said. “It’s really just a start.”

Elsey said she would not be surprised if the ratio of loans to grants was revised as lawmakers see the results of the program. She also said she wouldn’t be surprised if the standards for internet speeds change. “It’s hard to hit a target when the goalpost keeps moving,” she said.

As of the end of 2016, 24 million Americans did not access to high-speed internet at a fixed location, according to the FCC. Some have mobile internet service, but that might not be reliable enough or fast enough to keep up, according to the USDA report.

The USDA said there isn’t enough information available to estimate how much bringing high-speed internet to unserved areas would cost. In places with few customers, it’s unlikely internet providers will extend service to the last mile, so rural broadband may need to follow the example of rural electrification, according to the report.

“Broadband in rural America will be as transformative in the 21st century as rural electrification was in the last century,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in the report.

Read the original article here