MaxCell can expand capacity to speed information delivery, keeping companies moving forward.AcroBrwEx_cp245_220602_MaxCell_Case_Study_Airport_D3.pdf_ADW8AE962
MaxCell can expand capacity to speed information delivery, keeping companies moving forward.AcroBrwEx_cp245_220602_MaxCell_Case_Study_Airport_D3.pdf_ADW8AE962
February 2, 2022
Olympia, WA. The Washington State Broadband Office (WSBO) has awarded the Washington Independent Telecommunications Association (WITA) $14.8 M to provide new services to more than 1200 underserved and unserved homes and businesses. This public-private partnership teams WITA, a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1915, with two small, family-owned telecommunications companies: Hood Canal Communications (established in 1934) and Whidbey Telecom (founded in 1908). Together these entities represent over 300 years of commitment to meeting the telecommunications needs of rural Washington.
The grant will extend broadband services to residents and businesses in several low-density population pockets of Mason and Island Counties. Each company will contribute a cash match to their portion of the project resulting in Fiber to the Home and offer broadband internet up to 1,000 Mbps (Gigabit) with synchronous upload and download speeds. The availability of high-speed internet service will also greatly enhance the capabilities of state and local emergency responders in these areas.
George Henny, Co-CEO of Whidbey Telecom stated, “Washington State and the Federal government are making a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness. We are encouraged by these collaborative efforts and the bipartisan support that is critical to ensure that we have access to affordable, reliable, and scalable fiber broadband technologies supporting the economic viability of rural areas today and into the future.”
Whidbey Telecom and Hood Canal Communications have aggressively pursued and received multiple State and Federal grants, both directly and in partnership with public entities, to ensure that even the most rural parts of their service areas have access to gigabit broadband service. This grant will also help these companies expand beyond their traditional service areas into neighboring areas which are currently unserved.
According to Mike Oblizalo, General Manager and Vice President of Hood Canal Communications, the company is extremely grateful for the partnership with WITA and the WSBO for making these projects possible.
Betty Buckley, Executive Director
Washington Independent Telecommunications Association
Published Wednesday, December 1, 2021 4:34 pm – Chronline article
By Eric Rosane / firstname.lastname@example.org
Lewis County commissioners on Tuesday approved a finalized telecommunications agreement with ToledoTel that details a 25-year public-private venture to bring broadband internet services to unserved parts of Winlock.
The full scope of the agreement is tentative on the county being awarded $23.5 million from the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Broadband Office. The county and ToledoTel finalized the application alongside the agreement in time for the state’s deadline on Tuesday.
About $135 million in first-round funding will be distributed through the Infrastructure Acceleration Grants program. The county expects to hear back by Jan. 6 on how much will be allocated for the program.
“I think it’s as strong an application we could make, given the amount of time we had to get it together and the real-world constraints. Other people are facing the same real-world constraints, and that’s why I feel like it’s pretty competitive,” said Eric Eisenberg of the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office, who negotiated for Lewis County the terms of the contract with ToledoTel.
The contract stipulates ToledoTel — providing a 10% grant match — would install, supply and maintain a new fiber optic system connecting more than 2,300 homes and businesses in the Winlock area for up to 25 years. Lewis County would own the fiber optic system.
The company would have exclusive access to the infrastructure for up to three years, and after that would have to open the network to competitors at a wholesale rate.
Per the grant requirement, construction must begin in June 2022.
All grant dollars awarded must be contractually obligated by the end of 2024, and the project must be finished in full by the end of 2026.
ToledoTel says it’s confident it can and have at least 800 new connections online by the end of next year.
“The Winlock project is a very large area, and those people have very poor broadband, if at all. I think we’re uniquely poised to succeed in achieving funding through the partnership with Lewis County and ToledoTel,” the company’s Chief Operating Officer Dale Merten told The Chronicle.
Buildout of the project over the next half-decade will roughly double ToledoTel’s customer base, Merten said, though the company has been busy automating its customer service systems and bringing about efficiencies in its systems. The company currently serves a customer base in the Toledo area, and has been eyeing a jump over Interstate 5 to Winlock since the area began seeing rapid expansion and growth.
Merten said it’s very possible they’ll have to hire more people as the expansion proceeds.
Supply chain shortages could have an effect, if this project was to move forward with full funding. Today, Merten said, they have enough fiber to only build about 10 miles of new infrastructure.
“Fiber and fiber related projects have an 18- to 21-month timeline, but there’s a lot of components to this project,” he said, adding later: “Though supply chains may have an impact on this project, there are still many things we can accomplish in the meantime.”
But many of the cities, ports, PUDs, government municipalities and nonprofits that applied for Infrastructure Acceleration Grants will likely be in the same boat and facing the same challenges Lewis County and ToledoTel have moving forward.
Among the several dozen other applicants that also applied for a grant award is the Lewis County Public Utility District, which requested $10.6 million to bring broadband internet out to Randle and Packwood — a project the Board of County Commissioners had previously voiced support for — and a $179,700 request from Lewis County Community Health Services to implement broadband internet for its Community Health Center.
“Definitely excited just to be able to see our constituents get broadband … Since the pandemic, people have needed (it) in order to do business or do school. Not having adequate broadband has definitely proven a major issue,” Commissioner Sean Swope said.
Contract negotiations between Lewis County and the business took about three weeks, Eisenberg said, which Commissioner Lee Grose applauded.
“This whole process is amazingly rapid for any government,” he said.
Commissioner Lindsey Pollock, a Winlock resident and business owner who said she would benefit from the decision, chose to abstain from the discussion and vote on Tuesday over perceptions of conflicted interests. The approved contract still passed 2-0.
Nearly all of the fiber optic installed in Winlock has been proposed for underground installation. Eisenberg said the expectation is that cable integrity will hold up for 25 years at a minimum, though possibly longer.
Lack of access to broadband internet is a major challenge for many Lewis County residents. According to a customer survey, about 77% of customers within the Lewis County PUD’s service area don’t have reliable access to high-speed broadband internet.
None of us like to see our customers churn. Especially when, if we use the average US$400 (CA$521) customer acquisition cost of Bell and Telus, this means that the top four United States carriers are not only kissing goodbye to $65 million per month in lost future revenue, but another $76 million in customer replacement costs. That’s a lot of money.
So, what can we do about it?
If the current climate of uncertainty has put your major new projects on hold, perhaps it’s time to relook at some of your existing products and services – and grow revenue from what you have already, rather than experiment with new and unproven concepts.
Start by thinking:
One prime example is a telco’s email service. Email hosting tends to be like that shiny jacket that has always been in the cupboard, but most telcos don’t typically know when to pull it out or how to use it to their best advantage. This is despite the fact that some telcos have found customers of paid email will spend three times more across their telco brand, and The Radicati Group has predicted that more than 333 billion emails will be sent per day by year-end 2022.
Hosting providers, on the other hand, understand the value of email and know customers will pay for both email and upsells; all you have to do is ask. Only 3 percent of hosting providers (compared to 59 percent of telcos) in the U.S. give email to customers for free.
If your company is currently giving away products and services (such as email) for free, it’s time to stop, realise their value (improving them if needed), so you can fight churn and grow revenue with the resources that you already have, rather than waiting for future results from infrastructure and digital projects that are currently on hold indefinitely.
The state legislature this session passed two separate bills, ESHB 1336 sponsored by Rep. Drew Hansen (R-23) and SSSB 5383 sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-41), which set up conflicting public policies for how local governments can provide retail broadband service, and Governor Jay Inslee last week added further legal ambiguity by signing them both off camera—simultaneously—using his left hand to sign one, and his right hand to sign the other.
By doing so, Inslee may evade a state law dictating that whichever bill is signed last takes precedence when it conflicts with other legislation.
“It puts the whole thing into confusion,” Washington Independent Telecommunications Association Executive Director Betty Buckley told Lens. The association represents small, traditional landline telephone companies that have sought to provide broadband service to existing coverage areas.
An advocate for greater rural broadband, Buckley and others backed SSSB 5383, which allowed local governments such as cities, counties, and public utility districts to provide retail broadband service – but only in areas where no coverage existed.
ESHB 1336 offered much greater authority for local governments by allowing them to service “anybody, anywhere, anytime,” Buckley said. “The goal of the House bill was never to provide rural broadband. It was to make a statement about large providers and to create competition for larger providers. If you live on Bainbridge Island and you don’t like the big provider out here, maybe the local PUD will provide you better service or service from somebody that you like. I think that’s incredibly elitist.”
Though both bills passed the legislature, some state lawmakers opposed to ESHB 1336 warned it would incentivize broadband infrastructure expansion in more urban areas and offered little reason to extend it in less populated counties.
It’s an assessment Buckley also shares. “I don’t care if you’re a public entity or a private entity; you’re going to look at your bottom line and think ‘it’s less expensive for us to build an area where there are many customers.’”
Testifying in favor of SSSB 5383 during the session was TDS Telecommunications. Communications Director Kit Beyer wrote in an email that “it appears the priority was to put out a large welcome mat for local governments in the broadband business instead of prioritizing unserved areas, which is important to TDS Telecom. This unfortunate outcome will not change TDS’ fiber expansion efforts in great communities in this state.”
Yet, Buckley added that despite ambiguity over the bills there’s still opportunities for collaboration to improve rural broadband.
“It doesn’t have to be a delay. There are relationships today where a private entity has partnered with a public entity, and they’ve made it work.”
Both bills take effect in July.
Original article published on thelens.news.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
“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.
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.
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
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
It’s cherry blossom time in Olympia but that’s not all that’s making us smile. After years of hard work by the WITA team, including the members who have been so generous with their time and information, we are on the precipice of passing legislation that includes a five year extension to the State Universal Communications Fund. The bills containing that extension, what I normally refer to as the Governor’s broadband bills, are on track to get to the Governor’s desk for his signature by the end of April. Staff from the UTC contacted us to see if we would be willing to consider a one year continuation of the current process for distributing dollars as new rules will take months to promulgate. As part of that one year continuation we are hopeful that the UTC will be willing to waive their rate floor rule as it appears the FCC is set to do that as well. Rick Finnigan and Rick Vitzthum have been authorized by the board to discuss these issues with the UTC on WITA’s behalf.
In anticipation of the passage of the five year extension of the fund we are moving the time of the April 15th meeting of the Active Members of the Board to 4pm. I’ll send details as soon as we have a location identified.
April 14, 2019
WITSA Fundraiser in our own suite at Mariner Stadium!
Thank you to Root Sports for donating this suite!
June 5-7, 2019
OTA/WITA Annual Meeting, Salishan
Gleneden Beach, OR
October 14– 16, 2019
Leadership Conference/Outside Plant/Quarterly Meeting
Alderbrook, Union, WA
January 22, 2020
Quarterly Meeting/Holiday Dinner
House ITEC Committee Passes Bill with Ten-Year Extension to the State Fund!
On a unanimous voice vote the House Innovation, Technology and Economic Development Committee passed the Governor’s broadband bill, HB 1498, after amending it to include a ten-year extension of the State Universal Communications Fund. The original bill included a five-year extension. Rep. Sharon Wylie (D – Vancouver) offered the amendment so that HB 1498 would match the bill she had sponsored to extend the fund by ten years. That bill, HB 1373, will not be voted out of committee.
Yesterday the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee passed an identical version of the House bill. That version still contains a five-year extension of the fund. The Governor’s bill still contains some troubling provisions including the creation of a state broadband grant and loan program which could be used to overbuild some of areas now served by WITA members at speeds of 10/1. We are working to amend that language to ensure that limited state dollars are targeted at areas which have no service. However, our highest priorities are to ensure the extension of the state fund and changes to the qualifications for drawing from that fund so that all our members can benefit from this program.
All of this occurred during the snowiest week in Olympia history. Many people reported 18 or more inches of snow at their homes, dozens of homes were without electricity and state government was shut down on Monday. Some legislative staff were unable to make it to work which resulted in the systems designed to track bills and amendments being out-of-date and incomplete. Dan Coyne and made it to the Capitol every day while Betty Buckley was unable to return from her ranch in eastern Washington due to heavy snow and pass closures. Shellie Burnham did a bit of work from home but also made it to her office, which is a block from the Capitol, every day.
We hope you’re all staying warm and safe!
WITA started the new session off with a huge bang not only thanks to our members but also thanks to our Member Coordinator, Shellie Burnham, who did a stellar job of taking care of all the details. On January 21st and 22nd WITA members were in town to meet with legislators, have a board meeting and kick off the new session with a Holiday Gathering. While other lobbying groups were struggling to get appointments on what turned out to be two of the busiest days of session, Shellie kept us busy with so many meetings that we often had to split the group with Dan Coyne going off in one direction and another group heading in another direction with me. Mike Oblizalo ended up handling one meeting by himself, something we try to avoid but we knew Mike was up for it. By the end of those two days we’d met with 25 legislators including almost every member of the House Committee on Innovation, Technology and Economic Development (ITEC).
Shellie’s other duties include coordinating all our conferences, trainings and quarterly meetings. She does our banking, tracks membership dues, files all our reports with the Public Disclosure Commission, and handles our WITA Scholarship process from pulling the committee together in the spring to processing applications to putting the winners on our website. As we saw last week, she also schedules our meetings and ensures we have everything we need to make those meetings successful. As the former Executive Assistant to the Director of the Department of Revenue Shellie has compiled a black binder full of contact information for everyone even remotely connected to state government. That means whenever I need to find someone or something, Shellie has me covered.
Shellie is a contract employee working for a few lucky lobbyists including her former boss at the Department of Revenue. Shellie and her husband live in Tenino where she went to school with Stefanie Peterson. All of this is just a happy coincidence as I connected with Shellie through a job listing I’d sent out on a lobbyist listserv.
Shellie has worked with WITA for over three years now and in that time her job has evolved as I discover more and more of her talents.
WITA Scholarship Applications Open!
Do you have a dependent student currently enrolled or going to be enrolled in college?
Do you work full-time for a WITA member company or Associate Member company in WA State?
If you answered, yes, have your student apply today. WITSA gives away thousands of dollars every year in scholarships!
For more information, criteria eligibility, and application go to our scholarship page.
This week my goal was to get thirty signatures on our bill. That effort was interrupted by Governor Inslee’s press conference where he announced his broadband bill. WITA is one of the few organizations that has been involved in drafting this bill and so I was invited to attend. After the formal presentations, and after the cameras had been turned off, I took the opportunity to talk with reporters about some of their questions. Which resulted in at least one camera being turned back on.
Then it was back to gathering signatures. The process of making legislation is designed to be ponderous and time consuming to weed out frivolous bills. The hearing process and session deadlines make the process even more challenging which is why only a small percentage of bills get to the Governor’s desk for his signature. Only a legislator can introduce legislation which means state agencies and the Governor have to find someone to sponsor their ideas, just like everyone else.
Rep. Sharon Wylie (D – Vancouver) is sponsoring the legislation we need to extend the State Universal Communications Fund. Rep. Norma Smith (R – Camano Island) is the first co-sponsor. Rep. Smith’s district includes Whidbey Island and she’s the most senior member Republican member of the committee which will hear our bill.
By late Thursday we had gathered two dozen signatures including almost everyone who represents one of our members, two-thirds of the members of the committee which will hear the bill in the House, seven members of the Appropriations committee which will also hear the bill and the House Majority Leader. It’s a good mix of Republicans and Democrats, all of whom have voted on and supported this issue in the past. Instead of pursuing a few more signatures I decided to “drop” the bill a day early to ensure that it makes it onto the House Bill Introductions sheet this Monday. That will enable us to give out a specific bill number during out meetings with legislators. Besides, there are only twenty-four lines on the signature sheet so I added one more signature for a total of twenty-five and called it good.
This coming Monday and Tuesday we will have a chance to meet with new members to the legislators, along with some of our old friends, to ensure their support for the bill.
The past few days have felt like legislative session. Dan Coyne and I have talked with dozens of legislators as we continue to work on securing an extension of the state universal communications fund. There will be two pieces of legislation introduced in January, either of which will accomplish our goal. The first is the Governor’s Broadband bill which will include several sections including a five year extension of the state fund. The second bill will be introduced at our request and will contain a ten year extension of the fund. Rep. Sharon Wylie (D-Vancouver) has agreed to sponsor this bill and Rep. Norma Smith (R – Camano Island) will be the first co-sponsor. These first two sponsors are important because they establish that we have bi-partisan support for our effort and also support from veteran legislators. Both representatives are on the House committee through which our bill will have to pass and both have agreed to help us move the bill forward. There are several steps in this process, each with a deadline. Here’s a link to a website that gives more information if you would like to learn a bit more about this process. http://leg.wa.gov/legislature/Pages/Bill2Law.aspx
Our next steps include getting a sponsor for our bill in the Senate and adding more names to the list of bill sponsors. The more names the better. We’ll also be working on handouts for each company to share with their local representatives, in person if at all possible.
Legislative session begins on January 14th and we’ll be ready. Shellie Burnham will be setting up meetings for those of you who can join us in Olympia, as the group from Consolidated Communications did last year.
Welcome to a fresh new look for the WITA website with pictures and content courtesy of our members. We’ve also changed up some features to put more emphasis on our Premier Associate Members including more banner advertising and an opportunity for those members to get in front of our phone company members with news about what’s happening at their companies. This month we’re featuring a new staff person at one of our oldest Premier Members, Unitel. We hope you enjoy this new look for WITA and hope that you’ll help our content stay fresh by sending us stories about new projects, services and staff at your company.
UNITEL Insurance recently welcomed Matt Gilbert to the sales team as a Risk Advisor. Gilbert joined the UNITEL division of UNICO Group focusing on telecommunication services. UNICO is a full-service insurance agency with services ranging from telecommunications, workers’ comp, employee benefits to personal insurance, financial planning, human resources solutions and wellness.
“I have spent the last 12 years in the industry understanding people, finding custom solutions and aligning myself into a position to listen,” said Matt Gilbert. “My approach to servicing our clients is to listen to the evolving market, recent issues, industry challenges to provide solutions that best fit their needs.”
UNITEL has been providing risk solutions to the telecommunications industry since 2004 and now serves over 600 companies across the country. “We are excited to expand our knowledge and geographic reach. We are thrilled to have Matt join our team,” said Ric Stoakes, EVP of UNITEL. “Matt has been in the telecommunications industry for a long time and his knowledge and passion are a tremendous asset for our clients as well as for our growing team.”
Gilbert is on the Board for WTA and serves as the Chairman of the Associate Member Committee. He is also involved with NTCA with their associate members advisory council.
Matt grew up in SW Michigan and graduated from Grand Valley State University. Currently, he and his wife, Ashleigh, reside in Virginia with their two children.
It turns out that the article Ryan Blethen wrote about our members made it into US News and World Reports. Way to go WhidbeyTel and Pioneer! Many thanks also to Eric Trump who spent a great deal of time with Ryan as well. Check out the article here: