This week marks a fun (though little known) event for our industry. The first bill for electricity a whopping $50.40was paid to Edison Electric Light Company 140 years ago on Jan. 18, 1883. We don’t know this because of a traditional receipt or bank statement. Instead, the utility milestone was written on a one-dollar bill. 

The memorable receipt was auctioned off by Paul Fraser Collectibles in 2014 for $15,000. The bill wasn’t for a residential home, but for the Ansonia Brass & Copper Company. It makes sense that the potential of electricity was tapped first by a business. Many telcos and electric co-ops see the same trend for fiber access. But cooperatives, like Edison, keep people in mind when promising progress. 

A few weeks before he got his patent in 1880 for an ‘electric lamp,’ Thomas Alva Edison predicted affordable prices for power in the home.  

“After the electric light goes into general use, none but the extravagant will burn candles,” Edison told the press on Jan. 3, 1880. 

Then there was public hesitation. Electricity was new and strange. People worried it might make them sick or impact how they slept. It was hard to fight the habit of striking a match when entering a room. 

How did Edison meet these concerns?
With storytelling. 

According to the American Computer & Robotics Museum, this 1892 Edison Electric Light sign was posted in hotels, railroad stations and other public places to help with the transition from match-lit indoor gas lights to electric light bulbs operated by a rotating switch on the wall. 

Today, consumers no longer worry that electricity could give them a rough night’s sleep. Instead, both electric and telco consumers worry: 

  • Smart appliances track what people do in the home 
  • Utility leaves personal data open to attack 
  • Automated meter reading impacts health 
  • Installers may leave a mess in the home

When we launched an automated meter reading program at my electric distribution co-op (years ago, mind you), we wondered if we’d have a member wearing an aluminum hat show up at a board meeting. That didn’t happen, but those consumer concerns are alive and well. 

Over the holidays, I noticed a family member wearing a new bracelet. I asked about it and was told it’s a health and wellness device that blocks “harmful electromagnetic forces from wireless 5G devices.” (You can find it for $100 on Amazon, but please don’t buy it.) We may roll our eyes, but these concerns feel very real to consumers.  

How can we use examples from the past to tell our story today?

1. Celebrate Milestones

You may not have a receipt worth $15,000 pinned to the wall at your utility, but it’s still a good investment to celebrate milestones 

When FTC converted their entire service area to fiber, they held a Gig Community Celebration. Local elected officials and economic development leaders were invited to the luncheon, where area mayors were given certificates to show their cities are ready to grow.
Cullman Electric Cooperative put a baby on the cover of Alabama Living magazine when their broadband program, Sprout Fiber Internet, turned 1. 

2. Address Common Concerns

What’s keeping consumers awake at night in 2023? Reach out to your member service representatives and line workers. Find out what questions they’re hearing in the community. Then find different ways to address common concerns across all communication channels.  

Buzz Broadband developed a social media content series, Buzz Basics, to explain common broadband terms and answer common questions (read the full case study here).

GoSEMO Fiber created a one-minute video showing a fiber home installation, including the installer using a broom to clean up after drilling a hole in the home.

Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative created an EMF brochure with a chart comparing the output of a microwave, clothes washer, hair dryer and TV to electric distribution lines. (Spoiler alert: power lines emit the lowest level.) 

3. Find Fresh Story Spots

While you may have shared a story too many times to count, some consumers still may not have heard you, or they still might not be convinced. Edison Light Company placed signs in public spaces as a reminder that electricity is safe, to keep the message top-of-mind for people.  

Sharing your story is especially important for utilities in communities where larger, investor-owned companies compete for broadband consumers. We asked Utility Pioneers to share fresh spots they’ve found to share their story. 

NCTC uses VR goggles and a WiFi-enabled basketball at community events to show the potential of broadband. Hear NCTC Marketing Manager Amy Phelps talk about how the telco uses technology to share their story in this webinar recording. 
TVI Fiber partners with local realtors to put broadband signs in new homes. 

Are you planning new ways to share your story?  

We’d love to hear (then share!) what you’re doing.  

Share Your Story  

 

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