In March I was extremely honored and humbled to receive the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s President’s Award. The award recognizes an individual who has made outstanding contributions to improving the quality of life in rural America.
I’ve spent my entire 45-year career in the rural electric cooperative industry, and have enjoyed a lot of great highlights along the journey. But none quite as sweet as knowing that I was part of transforming the rural space by deploying high-speed fiber internet.
Note that I said, “I was part of.” I don’t own this honor, but proudly share it with a group of individuals that wasn’t afraid to step off the ledge with me. For many years our electric customers cried out to us in desperation for a high-speed solution because other internet service providers wouldn’t come in and serve the rural space. So you looked to us, and we listened. If you know anything about the history of the rural electric cooperative movement, you’ll recognize the similarity between today’s inequity and that from the 1930s.
I have the distinct honor and privilege of working with a board and leading a team that wasn’t afraid. Some of us worked tirelessly knocking on doors of state, regional and federal policymakers to educate about the needs of the rural space and advocate for the removal of funding and other barriers, while others were in the trenches learning an entirely new business and figuring it out how to build and deliver it with our ever-present commitment to service excellence. Together, we created and implemented a model that is now being replicated across the country.
This undertaking certainly wasn’t without risk, which is why many electric cooperative aren’t diving in. Assuming risk is scary as there is much at stake. But sometimes you need to step back and evaluate the risk of NOT taking a risk.
We always considered our electric customers to be well worth the risk. I’ve always said that geography should not define someone’s scope of opportunity, and lack of access to high-speed internet is beyond limiting in today’s online and digital world. You need it, you deserve it, and now almost 10,000 of you are using it.
I was the one on the stage in March receiving the award, but I’m honored to share it with people who were equally critical to the journey. My board. My team. And my Mary, who no longer walks with me on Earth, but remains my biggest supporter in life.
While there aren’t many around anymore who can say they remember the day the lights came on, we’re creating a new generation that can say they remember the day they were afforded the opportunity to experience a 21st century lifestyle. Thank you for being active participants in this most meaningful journey!