What You’ll Learn

State and federal governments are throwing billions of dollars toward broadband funding. How can storytelling and communications help secure some of that funding for your network?

Recorded Live at the NTCA Sales and Marketing Conference

Guest Speaker

Josh Seidemann

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 role should communications play in the efforts for broadband funding? That’s what we’ll be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. My name is Andy Johns, your host with WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. And I’m joined on this episode by Josh Seidemann, who is the VP of Policy for NTCA — The Rural Broadband Association. Thanks for joining me.

Josh Seidemann: Thank you, Andy.

Andy Johns: So like the other episodes that we have recorded, we are right here at the epicenter of the broadband marketing universe at the NTCA Sales and Marketing Conference. And Josh has a topic coming up tomorrow talking about the role of communications in broadband funding. So tell us a little bit about what you’ll be sharing at the session tomorrow.

Josh Seidemann: All right. Well, we’ve got a generational opportunity coming down the pike. Congress has appropriated through the Infrastructure Act forty-two and a half billion dollars for broadband deployment throughout the United States. This money is going to be flowed through the states, and then the states will award it to effectively subcontracting companies to deploy broadband. So the role of communications here for the incumbent industry, for the rural telecom industry, is incredible. This is an opportunity for them to show state government officials all the success stories that they’ve had in their service areas and why they are particularly and uniquely poised to take advantage of these new resources and play a key role in bringing broadband services to areas that don’t have them yet.

Andy Johns: One of the things that we have seen with all this money coming out is that there are all of a sudden people showing up out of nowhere that say they know how to build a broadband network. It’s a lot of the — and you don’t have to comment on that unless you want to — but the story of decades of service that the folks that NTCA members have is really a big differentiator in terms of why they’re the right people to get that funding, in my opinion.

Josh Seidemann: Right, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. And again, this is not to say that there’s never space in any type of effort for a new entrant to come in and provide service. You know, unfortunately, we’ve had situations with other government programs aimed at getting broadband out there. People come in. Broadband is a difficult business in terms of the technology, in terms of the managing the business, in terms of the regulatory structures that surround it. We do have, you know, we’ve had parties come in, and they’ve promised to government officials, “Hey, we can provide this type of service, of this capability.” But when you drill down, they’ve never really gotten that service out in the real world. The results that they’ve had have been in the laboratory. Now, that only addresses the technical aspect of whether they can actually deliver that capability. But as you mentioned, there’s the service aspect. There is the aspect of how have we interacted with and worked with health care systems, how have we worked with economic development officials? How have we helped our schools and colleges and libraries with these broadband services? And how can we take those experiences and bring them to new communities that haven’t been able to take advantage of this before? I know you and I have spoken before about NCTA’s Smart Rural Community program, and that’s a repository of these types of examples.

Andy Johns: Absolutely. So I know that you have seen a lot of different examples from different folks around the industry. In terms of communications being involved, have you seen a, you know, a secret recipe or the right mix of who and how an organization, a telco, puts together their applications funding? Is it normally coming from the communications side, the regulatory side, the CEO, the, you know, executive assistant? I mean, where does this typically fall, and how have you seen it worked in terms of an organization sharing the responsibility to get these — some of them very lengthy — applications together?

Josh Seidemann: Right. So with this BEAD funding that’s coming down the pipe from the Infrastructure Act, we are really just not even at the beginning. You know, we’re just beginning phase, so to speak. NTIA, which is the federal agency which is going to provide guidance to the states, has not yet released the rules. We’re not even expecting that first set of rules to come out for the next couple of weeks. And this has been something that’s been in play for the last few months as they’ve have been developing those. I don’t know that there is a secret sauce. Every community, every organization, every state is going to have its own guardrails and its own guidelines for getting these applications in. I would say that some common approaches would probably make sense. In the first instance, I would make sure that the C-suite staff at these companies plays an active role in getting these applications together. These are going to be of critical importance for the companies. And you want to have executive oversight as these applications go in. I think it will be critically important to call in your marketing professionals at the company, because we all know that you can have the best story out there, and half of the job is the way that we tell that story. Find the right way to tell that story. Find the partners with whom you have achieved success. Those partners whose broadband service, whose… You have partners, your broadband service has made that partner the hero to its community. Find those partners, get them as part of, you know, let their testimony speak to your application. If you are going to seek to provide service in a new community, partner with that other community. Make them part of the application as well.

Andy Johns: We’ve talked about that earlier with someone about how, you know, the best storytellers, you know, brand storytellers can get other people to tell their stories, too. So that certainly sounds like it makes a lot of sense. You know, when you’re looking at the places where people find those stories, have you I mean, you mentioned some there, but, you know, hospitals, schools, institutions, individuals. Those stories can come from anywhere, I guess. Right?

Josh Seidemann: Right. Oftentimes, the best story is the one that resonates most with the listener. So one that the listener can relate to. So you and I might not be able to relate to the story of a hospital administrator or of a doctor. We might be able to relate to the story of a patient who enjoyed a better health outcome.

Andy Johns: There you go.

Josh Seidemann: Using telehealth.

Andy Johns: Exactly. Well, as we’re looking at what’s coming next, well, I guess you used a term a minute ago. Let’s define that real quick. You use “BEAD” which I know is something that’s been talked about a lot. Equity is a big topic right now. Go ahead. For the folks who aren’t aware, kind of define that for us before we go any farther forward.

Josh Seidemann: This is the Broadband Equity and Accessibility Act. And again, it’s an acronym. It’s really just intended to define how do we… It’s a name for forty-two and a half billion dollars. But again, it does reflect the ongoing interest of the administration to really get broadband out to many more places and to many more people.

Andy Johns: Got it. Well, what do you see coming? I know a lot of what you’re doing is kind of getting out the crystal ball and seeing what’s coming next. I’m sure that the importance of storytelling isn’t going to change as we’re looking forward. But what do you see coming next just in terms of these opportunities? And is there anything that folks can do right now to prepare for whatever’s coming next?

Josh Seidemann: I think a critical step in preparing for these applications is to start thinking about the areas where you’re thinking about extending your service lines. It is identifying your institutional partners in those communities. It is learning more about those communities, finding the people in those communities. Who do you think will be most affected and can be most affected by the extension of your services to those places. And then seeing if you can identify almost their twin in your own community. Find the school in your community that’s similar to the school and the other community so that that school can be a witness for what your broadband service can provide and can be a model and say, “Hey, we did it over here. This is how we can emulate this success in this community if we can get the broadband there.”

Andy Johns: You mentioned there’s no secret sauce and every organization kind of does it differently. Does it have to start at the top for something like this, or are there other folks in the organizations that can kind of get the ball rolling and identify some needs in some areas?

Josh Seidemann: I think it’s going to have to, I think it has to start at the top, but it doesn’t have to stay at the top. I mean, I think the top echelons, the leadership in every organization needs to be aware of this. These resources, these funding opportunities are so profound that it cannot move forward without executive direction. But again, that executive then can hand it over to a marketing, to a communications team and with the proper direction. I think that team that has the specialty and skill set of building these stories of working on these applications can then contribute to the overall project.

Andy Johns: Perfect. Anything else you would add as we’re wrapping up here? Is there anything else that we didn’t cover that you feel like we need to talk about?

Josh Seidemann: You know, again, you just you listen to the numbers: forty-two and a half billion dollars. It’s a generational opportunity, and companies should just, you know, take a look at this. And however they think that they can get involved in getting their success extended to more people throughout their regions, you know, have at it and go for it.

Andy Johns: Keeping track of all the opportunities with those billions of dollars out there is a busy job. I know you’re a busy guy. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

Josh Seidemann: Thanks very much. Take care Andy.

Andy Johns: He is Josh Seidemann. He is the VP of policy for NCTA. I’m your host, Andy Johns with WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. 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.