What You’ll Learn

The best time to acquire a new broadband customer is when they move to your community. What are some providers doing to target new residents?

Guest Speaker

Laura Withers, Vice President of Strategic Communications, NTCA

Show Notes

Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.


Intro: A production of WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. StoryConnect: The Podcast, helping communicators discover ideas to shape their stories and connect with their customers.

Andy Johns: What can broadband providers do to reach the newest members of their community? That’s what we’ll be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. My name is Andy Johns, your host once again with WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. And I’m joined on this episode by Laura Withers, who is VP of Strategic Communications for NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. Laura, thanks for joining us again.

Laura Withers: Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to be on.

Andy Johns: I think this is about the third time you’ve been on, so that makes you a friend of the podcast, so we appreciate that.

Laura Withers: Well, I’m just glad to still be here.

Andy Johns: Right, after the last couple of years we’ve had, I think everybody is a little bit. So, we’re recording this one live at the epicenter of broadband marketing this week, the NTCA Sales and Marketing Conference, which Laura plays a big role in. And one of the topics you talked about today was ways for telcos to reach those very newest members of their community who are either about to move or have just moved to town, right?

Laura Withers: Yep. Absolutely. You know, I live in the city, but I think a lot of people like me who live in the city and experienced the last two years, we’re wishing that we didn’t live in the city. And it turns out a lot of us actually moved to other parts of the country to seek out a more rural lifestyle. We know that through the USPS change of address data, that more people were moving out of urban areas into rural areas than people moving from rural areas to more urban areas. And so what that has done is it’s created a unique opportunity for our members to welcome new community members and make sure that when they are purchasing a home or relocating to their service territory, that they know about the great broadband that they have. So it’s been so fun to hear from our members over the last several years about the new community members that are coming to their areas and finding out through either buying a home or relocating that maybe they are or are not in the service territory of the local broadband company. And what that means for the kind of service that they can get at their house.

Andy Johns: And that’s not just, you know, like I heard that theory for a while there that people will move rural to get out of the cities. But I know I’ve heard stories, like you said, there’s data behind it. I mean, this is real. It’s happening. And that reverses the trend over what we had seen for quite a while in some areas.

Laura Withers: I think that’s the case in a lot of areas. I don’t know for sure, but just looking at the data that we have today and the stories that we heard in the media. You know, The Washington Post had an article a couple of months ago about a homeowner who moved out to a rural part of the country, realized after buying a multimillion dollar home that he had really bad broadband service and was pretty upset about that. So I think it’s been a big focus of the media. And, you know, I think we have an opportunity as an industry to talk about how our members provide great fiber broadband and how that’s different than some other areas of the country. Not that those other areas of the country are, you know, bad places to live, but just kind of knowing before you relocate who your broadband provider could be.

Andy Johns: I know that, you know, just personally. Well, first off, you should know how professional Laura and I are. Is we were just offered pigs in a blanket here at the reception, and neither one of us even flinched. We just kept right on recording. So that’s the level of professionalism that we have here. But I know personally, when my parents just moved out of Atlanta to a more rural spot in Georgia. And checking on that Internet connection was one of the first things that they did as well. So it’s certainly happening. But what are you seeing in terms of NTCA members? What are you hearing in terms of ways that folks are reaching out and kind of helping people know. I know the Smart Rural Communities, it plays into your role there. What are some ways you’re seeing people kind of make that known?

Laura Withers: All right. So what we talked about this morning is a new venture that we are working on with some partners at DxTEL, which is a marketing firm that works with many of our member companies. They have started a new thing called fiber homes and it’s called fiberhomes.com. They are building a consumer friendly website and also tools for families that are relocating and also real estate agents to give them information about fiber connected addresses. And of course, they need to work with our members to get that information and understand which addresses in these rural communities have fiber connections. So it’s an exciting initiative because I don’t know that the world of real estate really cared about this until the pandemic, and then they had a whole bunch of people like that person that was interviewed by The Washington Post buying houses that maybe didn’t have great service and finding out that their customers were really mad about that. So I think the real estate agents have kind of had their eyes opened to the fact that broadband is the number one thing that people are sometimes asking about when they’re looking at a new home. So where the Smart Rural Community tie-in comes in is that the folks that are a part of that program are getting an opportunity to have a listing on fiberhomes.com, and also some community profiles for our Showcase Award winners, which is sort of our way of awarding our members and their communities that are going above and beyond. And that story platform is what we’re working on right now, and hopefully we’ll be launched in the next several months to provide consumers and people looking for great places to live. An opportunity to also understand that there’s great broadband served by a local provider with fiber.

Andy Johns: Storytelling is something that’s come up on this podcast before. So yeah, that’s good to tell that story, certainly. So, and then once that gets started, you know, working with those real estate agents is something that we’ve helped folks do and kind of make some of those connections. But, you know, I think the stat before the pandemic was that having a fiber connection was like having an extra half bath in terms of the value of real estate. And I’m sure that’s probably gone up because everybody saw the importance of fiber. It was even more important during the pandemic.

Laura Withers: Yeah, I would venture to guess that’s the case. You know, I haven’t actually done any research myself, but we are also working with Calix and some folks in academia to study that. And to try to do a report later this year on the value that is gained by having a fiber connection to your home. And I think that we’re going to be able to show that there is a huge value to that. Whether or not we’re going to be able to say, you know, there’s a percentage value increase is another thing, but at least, you know, in what you and I do, we can tell a good story about it.

Andy Johns: Absolutely. Yeah. So and maybe I’ll throw you a little curveball here. We didn’t talk about this ahead of time, but this is the first one of the Sales and Marketing conferences has been together.

Laura Withers: Yes.

Andy Johns: So has there been anything that’s come up either in the discussions or whatever today? Like what are people talking about? This kind of gives everybody the opportunity to kind of check the pulse of what our peers at other broadband providers are doing? What kind of themes, or what are you hearing about from folks here today and yesterday at the conference?

Laura Withers: Well, first, we’re just all really glad to be together again.

Andy Johns: Absolutely.

Laura Withers: This was one of the first conferences that NTCA had to make into an online event in the early days of the pandemic. Of course, we did that. We had still a great event, even though we weren’t able to be together in person. And then we did it again in 2021. And I would like to say that the 2021 event was better, but I actually think the 2020 event was better because there was a sense of we’re all in this together. We’re going to figure this out.

Andy Johns: I’d heard that from a couple of folks. Yeah.

Laura Withers: And, you know, we were still able to keep that really strong connection to our members through even just a virtual meeting. But, you know, we stuck to it. Here we are in 2022. We’ve finally been able to get together safely. And we have a fabulous location in Fort Lauderdale. And I think that what I’m hearing is that the last couple of years were hard. It was particularly difficult for marketing because either they got really busy just trying to keep people connected, or they got really busy connecting new people. And I’ve heard so many people this week say that they have doubled their subscribers in the last two years.

Andy Johns: That’s awesome.

Laura Withers: Awesome. But also I’m like, how did you do that when you weren’t even in the office?

Andy Johns: Right.

Laura Withers: So quite amazing. What I’m hearing is that people are really excited to see what the next few years bring to our industry, and they’re re-energized to get out there and connect new communities, introduce them to broadband. You know, we have a digital inclusion initiative that we’re kicking off, making sure that we’re not just talking about physically connecting people with infrastructure, but also making sure that we’re making efforts to help them adopt that and use the broadband that they have to the best of their abilities. So I’m not sure what the future is going to bring, but I think that this is kind of a point at which we can shed the pandemic, hopefully, and move forward together.

Andy Johns: Excellent. Well, Laura, I know you got a lot going on this week, so I appreciate you taking the time to to record with us.

Laura Withers: Always fun, Andy. Thanks for having me.

Andy Johns: I always learn something new. So she is Laura Withers. She is VP at NTCA about strategic communications. I’m your host, Andy Johns, and until we talk again, keep telling your story.

Outro: StoryConnect is produced by WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. Both companies are built to share your story. Our associate producer is Sarah Wootten. StoryConnect is engineered by Lucas Smith of Lucky Sound Studio.