How Rural Internet Access is Being Transformed by Electric Cooperatives - Episode 559 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

There are more than 830 electric cooperatives in the United States, serving more than half the country by geography. Electric cooperatives overwhelmingly serve regions that face population density challenges and income disparities as compared to their urban counterparts, as well as all of the other challenges that go with it: declining populations, hospital closures, increasingly frequent extreme weather events, and more. This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Brian O'Hara, Senior Director of Regulatory Issues for Telecom and Broadband at NRECA, to talk about how more than a quarter of the country's electric cooperatives have answered the call of their members and expanded into Internet service. 

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below.

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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.


Brian O'Hara (00:07):
One of the biggest assets we have is that local connection and that local presence. Our CEOs and our members, they're in the grocery store, they're in the shops, and if they're not doing anything right, they're gonna hear it directly from the community every time they go outta church or the store.

Christopher Mitchell (00:21):
Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcasts. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and today I'm down at broadband communities where we are in Houston at this wonderful event. And here I am with Brian O'Hara, the senior director regulatory issues for telecom and broadband at N R E C A, which y'all don't call nreca, but is N R E C A? Correct.

Brian O'Hara (00:46):
We usually inside the building go by N R E C A.

Christopher Mitchell (00:49):
What is N R E C A?

Brian O'Hara (00:51):
So we are the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. We represent 900 electric cooperatives in 48 states. We serve 56% of the landmass with electricity and serve 92% of persistent poverty counties in the us. And of our 900 members, 830 are distribution members, which mean they serve the retail electric. And about 210 to 215 of those have now gotten into broadband in some shape or form.

Christopher Mitchell (01:21):
There's a, a direction, I didn't expect we'd go right away, but 92% of the persistent poverty counties. And I think that just recalls that the electric co-ops were not created with one mission in mind of get electrons out to people.

Brian O'Hara (01:33):
Right. No, I mean they were really there to serve the community. And then many of 'em, they do many other things other than just electric. And of course electric powers everything else. Right. Without that, the community's not gonna be doing much <laugh> and certainly, certainly not broadband.

Christopher Mitchell (01:48):
Yeah. That's it is one of those things where we sometimes have these questions about what's more important to people, Internet or electricity, and it's like, well, you know, it's kinda hard to do much with the Internet without electricity. That's right.

Brian O'Hara (01:57):

Christopher Mitchell (01:58):
So this is a point at which I think we've now crossed 200 rural electric cooperatives who are providing service.

Brian O'Hara (02:05):
Correct? Correct.

Christopher Mitchell (02:06):
And at one point I felt like we were thinking kind of like a max ceiling of like 300 or 400 that would be doing it. Do you still think that that's a ceiling or like, what's the progress that you're seeing

Brian O'Hara (02:17):
As we've been talking about here this week? A historic level of funding's coming. Right. So definitely we think another 100, 200 will get into this. But then as we're starting to see these more creative partnerships, right? I think as we've all talked about before, electric hops are pretty conservative in the way they, they go about their business, right? Don't like to spend a lot of money. Now as we're seeing more and more partnerships and more unique and new models of partnerships that may encourage even more to get in, in some way, shape, or form mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. Right? And, and what I like to say is there's plenty of electric crops that are deploying at least some fiber for their electric operation needs. And I tell them, well first if you're gonna do it, put more fiber in so you have more capacity. You never know what you're gonna need down the way. And number two is lease it out. If you're not, don't wanna be an ip, lease it out so someone else can help serve your community. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> and you can get a little money cuz that's not cheap to deploy fiber.

Christopher Mitchell (03:08):
Yes. And, and they have a particular asset in the poles, the crews. And so they could really be involved in the physical aspect of some of this, even if they don't wanna be involved in like marketing and competition and all that.

Brian O'Hara (03:21):
True. you know, marketing in another one hurdle that my members talk about that get in the business is the whole different level of a customer service. One of my members put it really well on a panel. He said, listen, if someone goes out and buys a new toaster and plugs in and it doesn't work, they're not calling their electric utility. But if someone goes out and buy a new TV and you're at broadband and it's not connecting to the Internet, guess what? You're getting a call.

Christopher Mitchell (03:43):
They don't know who else to call. And the co-OP's not gonna tell 'em to pound sand.

Brian O'Hara (03:46):
Exactly. Exactly. That's right. So it's not the way it is. And you know, one thing you forgot about our assets that we also have is we have a deep commitment to that community and our customer satisfaction rating. People usually love their co-op mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And so when they get into another business, of course they see them in that same vein. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And, and truthfully that's probably one of the most important things. And when you see partnerships, a lot of times it's say, X and X broadband powered by X co-op. Cause they wanna still, you know, use that name that has a great reputation in those communities. Mm-Hmm.

Christopher Mitchell (04:16):
<Affirmative>, let's unpack for a second why some co-ops aren't doing it because I feel like sometimes people don't get the right understanding of why that decision can be hard to make. And I'll note, I mean, I've championed New Hampshire Electric co-op and Delta Montrose where the co-op originally said no, and the community changed their mind. But I think it's worth noting this is not the first new idea that has come down the pike. Co-Ops have been burned before. Right. Some of them were involved with building nuclear power plants that went way over budget and they had to figure out how to do that. Some of them got into propane or, or satellite dish related technologies. And, and before I let you speak on this, I just wanna like, and the thing to keep in mind is, like we said, these might be the most important entities like community entities in the region. These are responsible for economic development. If they are, if their existence is threatened, that could hurt the entire community in terms of being able to attract industry and make sure it's a competitive place to live.

Brian O'Hara (05:14):
Yeah. You are a hundred percent correct on all those fronts. So when I came on board almost six years ago, I heard from a lot of electric co-ops, oh, this broadband thing, it's another propane. Right? Right. And a lot of 'em lost their shirts there. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Another thing is this is a lot of money. I mean, this is like doubling the amount of infrastructure they have and that's a lot of money. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And you know, you look back on it, even these Electric Corps had gotten into the business and electric business back in the day. They didn't build it in a day. Right. It took, it took years.

Christopher Mitchell (05:45):

Brian O'Hara (05:45):
That's right. And

Christopher Mitchell (05:46):
And community involvement.

Brian O'Hara (05:47):
Exactly. Right. So it is a, a big risk. So and also there can be a generational kind of belief there. There's been folks I've talked to that said, Hey, I've been an electric utility for 70 years. Why should I change or be anything else? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Right. I think in, in some co-ops, you're starting to see a new generation take over that may be thinking a little differently. But that being said, I have some electric co-op CEOs that are of the older generation and they've dove in Right. In recognizing the need for the community.

Christopher Mitchell (06:17):
Yeah. That's, that's one of those areas where I think it is both true that folks who are who have retired who are older may be some of the folks who are less convinced of the need for this. But we've also seen 83 year champions of making these investments.

Brian O'Hara (06:33):
Oh, totally. And I look at the average age of some of our board of directors and a lot of these guys, they see the need. They have definitely realized it. And, and let's also be honest that increasingly if you want any social services, you gotta fill out those applications online. There are so many things. And then one of the biggest things in rural America is telehealth. Right. They could not have a medical facility for 50 miles mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. But if they can make a call or do a video call with their doctor, it can really save them time and money.

Christopher Mitchell (07:00):
Yeah. And one of the most important areas of that is triage too. When you're sitting there, it's, it's not the case where you're like, oh, like I have to have this thing done. A lot of times you're like, do I need to go in there? Do I need to go in there? Do I need to drive when like, gas is $5 a gallon? Am I gonna have to drive 120 miles to find out I didn't need to go in?

Brian O'Hara (07:16):
You're right. Especially when the gas prices, well they, they've come down a little bit, but they're still high. Yeah. When it was at their height yeah, that was a big question. You said like, okay, why should I do that drive for for 50 miles mm-hmm. <Affirmative> when it may not be anything. Right. And they can do a quick call, get a consultation, and then decide whether they really need to do that and get further help.

Christopher Mitchell (07:34):
Yeah. And I just say that cuz I think this summer we're gonna see that again. We're gonna see those prices go and I remember, I mean this seems like not not that long ago, but also a long time ago my mom worked at the Mayo Clinic. I, I grew up, well, for five years of my life I lived in Rochester <laugh> and I paid attention to the Mayo Clinic. And when gas prices hit $4 a gallon, I was paying attention. That was the first time they had been that high. And they found a significant number of people chose to stop coming in for service at that point. Just psychologically people thought it's too far, it's too expensive.

Brian O'Hara (08:06):
Yeah. And telehealth is a great example of how we can overcome some of those problems. And it's, it's very important. And it's empowered by broadband. You need a good connection.

Christopher Mitchell (08:14):
Well, I think one of the things that your members have to deal with is these increased storms. We know it's, they're all over the news. You get these super powerful storms and they're ripping through someone's electric lines. And like you said earlier, a lot of times when you're in a rural area, there's gonna be a co-op that's that's got those lines up. They have to figure out how to, how to keep as many people up as possible and then repair as fast as possible.

Brian O'Hara (08:39):
Yeah, no, you're hermon. Correct. And that's where kind of the broadband is kind of like a, a, a win-win for electric co-ops because they get more awareness of what's going on with their network. Right. They can do the, the SCADA controls and network monitoring so they, you know, can pinpoint when something goes down, where it goes down instead of before you'd have to just drive the line until you finally found the spot where it went down. Right. So there's a lot more automation and and information that they can use to help keep the resiliency much higher and kinda keep those outages hopefully from happening. But at the very least being able to pinpoint 'em and fix 'em and correct 'em as quickly as possible.

Christopher Mitchell (09:15):
So do you have any interesting anecdotes I can bring that home for people? Because I, I gotta think that you've heard some interesting stories from different folks

Brian O'Hara (09:22):
That I hear time and again, how much more efficient the network is once you have this broadband. And I think we did a report a couple years ago and I think it found that an electric co-op that runs fiber all the way to the home and has you know, AAMI capabilities full, a full smart grid can save millions of dollars a year by inefficiency. And like when you get in, like say the summer when all everyone's running their AC and they get that peak, well they can, they can turn off our AC for a few minutes or hot water heater at those highest peak times so they don't have to go buy additional electricity on the, you know, at the height of the market mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. So it saves them a lot of money. And it can keep from having brownouts or blackouts from happening or

Christopher Mitchell (10:00):
Raising rates or raising

Brian O'Hara (10:02):
Rates. Correct.

Christopher Mitchell (10:02):
There's no money tree that the co-ops tap into <laugh>.

Brian O'Hara (10:05):
Yep. And so, I mean, you look at it now a lot of our areas have been losing populations. So broadband's helping to keep people there. We do have some other areas where the population has been growing a bit of the demand for our energy has been growing a bit and it's very expensive to get new generation. And if they can just make the the, the grid run a little more efficiently, that can stave off the need for additional generation capacity.

Christopher Mitchell (10:28):
Now when we're thinking about partnerships, I'm curious, I think, you know, we've talked previously on the show about different partnerships, but I'm curious if there's any interesting models that you might highlight aside from obviously electric hubs working with each other and to some extent working with other entities or buying other entities.

Brian O'Hara (10:44):
Yeah, so it, it's kind of across the board. I think I've seen electric co-ops partner with about any kind of entity out there. I would say most traditionally we see electric co-ops first working with other electric co-ops and second working with telephone co-ops and small telephone privately owned companies. And a lot of this is because they have so much in common, especially co-op to co-op mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, right? It's that co-op mission, that mentality. But I have members that are partnering with working very closely with T-Mobile. I got small members that are working with small cable companies with wisps. Even a couple that are working with mid-size I, Lex mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. So it's kind of across the board foremost I see the co-op to co-op the small telephone co-ops and electric co-ops working together. But once again, I think we're starting to see more new, more creative ways of going about this. I know some are actually working with municipalities as well. We've seeing an increasing number that are working in, in with that municipality. I've had several co-ops who told me that a local municipality wanted to build its own fiber network but didn't wanna be the I S P and they would come to the co-op that was in broadband and say, I'd love you to operate this cuz you know, it's not my bail way, it's not my strength. And there's a lot of great examples of of that happening.

Christopher Mitchell (11:55):
Yes. I think that is a dream for a lot of cities is to have not only a trusted partner, but one that is rooted in the, in the region that has a lot of reason to try to benefit the area.

Brian O'Hara (12:07):
Totally agree. And you know, I'd say that one of the biggest assets we have is that local connection and that local presence as we always say, and the telephone co-ops say it themselves too. Our CEOs and our members, they are in the grocery store, they're in the shops. And if they're not doing anything right, they're gonna hear it directly from the community every time they go outta church or the store.

Christopher Mitchell (12:28):
I mean, I don't know what the numbers are for you. I've heard different numbers between four and 10 homes per linear mile where you might be able to make the business model work without needing too much of a subsidy. But one of the things I think that those nearby towns can bring is like helping to boost that average up so you can make excess money, you know, make more money, wanna you have less of a per home cost to connect those homes in the city and then you can get out to those rural areas better. So cuz I think the rural co-op members are always thinking, wait a minute, why are you connecting that city when I need something out here in my farm?

Brian O'Hara (13:01):
Yeah. No, you're a hundred percent right. On average, our members on the electric side serve eight customers per mile, but we also have a chunk of members that were in rural areas in the past but aren't so rural anymore. Yes. <laugh>, we have a members just outside here in Houston we have members, you know, just outside of Nashville and Atlanta, even Washington DC there's one out by Dulles Airport. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Right. And so if you take them out of it, that eight per mile drops down. Right. Right. And, and you're a hundred percent right. Usually the number I hear

Christopher Mitchell (13:31):
Just pattern alley alone. And that probably significantly changes it.

Brian O'Hara (13:34):
Exactly. You, you're a hundred percent right. So I hear that around eight per mile is around where you could probably do it without a subsidy, but it's still tough mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. but the, the grant money's important and you're a hundred percent right that some of our members will go outside of their service territory to, to grab a pocket of population. Right. More, more populous. So it can raise their overall average of their whole service territory and then they can afford to to reach some of those, the less less populated areas.

Christopher Mitchell (14:06):
Do you have any interesting highlights? I mean, I would say that for instance, like, you know, I've talked a lot with John Chambers, he worked with Oklahoma Electric. They were just, they were like one of the fastest growing, just like super efficient, rapidly growing ones. Any other any other highlights for you of like some of the ones that stand out?

Brian O'Hara (14:23):
Well, so I, I'd like to look at some of these new models I'm seeing, and I'm gonna use Virginia as a couple examples. This last week I was down at Rappahannock Electric co-op.

Christopher Mitchell (14:32):
Oh yeah.

Brian O'Hara (14:33):
So they had wanted to get into broadband and they had signed up for the rdo and they got sued by a landowner for violating their, their easements mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And so they dropped out of the auction.

Christopher Mitchell (14:43):
This is so frustrating for me. It

Brian O'Hara (14:44):
Was very frustrating. I agree. And so they were shaking their head and trying to figure out what they could do since they lost out on that. Well the neighboring co-op Central Virginia had been in it for a while, was one Firefly. Right. Firefly Broadband. Exactly. they came to 'em and said, well, hey, you help us build out the network and we'll be the I S P. So it's a very interesting partnership there. And they're actually working with the large investor owned Utility Dominion mm-hmm. <Affirmative> Dominion Power there, who is also leasing out broadband. So they're also serving some of those more rural areas served by the large investor owned electric utility. So I think that's a very unique model. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And they're trying to start building that pretty quick. That's another state, Virginia, where they've had a state broadband plan and a state office and they put some money towards this for a while.

Christopher Mitchell (15:30):
Yeah. Dr. Tamara Holmes has, I think really helped to lead to really smart all encompassing approaches.

Brian O'Hara (15:37):
Yeah. They are truly a, a leader on the state level of, of what what should be emulated in other states. And hopefully we will be seeing that more with all these the new state broadband offices popping up.

Christopher Mitchell (15:47):
Yes. Are there other states where you would highlight something that's going really well where the state is getting something done? And I know like for people who might be listening and thinking, why isn't Brian mentioning us? Like, this is your classic problem of who's your favorite child. Yes. Like there's a lot of state schooling good things, but what are some that you might pick on?

Brian O'Hara (16:02):
I've heard great things about Minnesota. Yes. I think they have the, don't they have the border to border? Is it your home

Christopher Mitchell (16:07):
State? Yeah. No, I think Minnesota had been really great. I'm a little bit worried about, I mean there's like you know, I think it's east Central Electric. Yeah. They have a really great plan, but it's a big plan in the state. You know, when the state got started, they had 20 million, 25 million a year. Well, like, that's a, I think 300 million project. And I would say the state could do better about figuring out how to work with a project that's gonna connect everyone in multiple counties. So I, you know, I'm always gonna brag. I think Minnesota's great, but there's some work to do there perhaps.

Brian O'Hara (16:36):
Yeah, I get it. I hear great things also about Missouri Yes. And what they've done. Right. And we just had a co-op there that won I think 47 million to dive into broadband, I think White River Valley. So there, there's more cases than I could ever name here. We'd have to go on for an extra hour just to, you know, go through the alphabet list.

Christopher Mitchell (16:52):
And now at the same time, and we don't have to get into it if it might be not helpful, but there are some states that still restrict. Right. I mean, Nebraska is a state that has severe restrictions on all kinds of public power systems and I think there's some electric co-ops there.

Brian O'Hara (17:07):
So yeah, Nebraska is kind of a unique, it's all public power, but they have public utility districts and they are members of

Christopher Mitchell (17:14):

Brian O'Hara (17:15):
Okay. Okay. All right. So now I think they're starting to be creative. I starting to hear more things that maybe they'll work with some private ISPs, so they won't be the provider, but they can build out the network, which are, they're gonna need for electric operations anyways. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, some other states, I know I think it was touched upon on the panel earlier, you know, Tennessee electric co-ops can get into broadband, but they still have to only conserve within their electric footprint for now. And I think North Carolina and South Carolina have very similar restrictions. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, if it's not just our electric footprint, then just within a few miles of their electric footprint.

Christopher Mitchell (17:44):
Now is that for Internet service or Cuz I, this is where I don't remember the details. I thought Tennessee liberalized that and they could do everything but television. Am I, is that, am I crazy remembering

Brian O'Hara (17:55):
That? No, my understanding is they still restrict even just the broadband Yeah. To within their electric footprint at this point in time. That's

Christopher Mitchell (18:01):
Wild. It's just <laugh>.

Brian O'Hara (18:05):
Yeah. Now there were some that are gonna, you know, if they are partnering with a say telephone co-op mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, then obviously then, then they can work things out.

Christopher Mitchell (18:11):
Well in the way the, the Tennessee had worked for the municipalities, which is a law that goes back to 98 that I find hilarious. A municipality that is offering service, they can offer non advanced service, like the limit is on advanced services. And so Chattanooga, for instance, could literally build a telephone system across this, the, the state and they could offer like 40 megabit Internet service, but they could not offer more than 45 megabit from the definitions that I think were in play in in 1998. And so it's kind of like you really get a sense of, of the, the ludicrousness of these restrictions.

Brian O'Hara (18:43):
Yeah. And you know, that's a great story and one of those ones that you look back at it now and you totally scratch your head. You know, that's, that's the old saying with legislation, right. It's like making sausage. You never know how it kind of works out and what comes out in the end.

Christopher Mitchell (18:55):
Yeah. You don't wanna leave it out for too long. That's what you Exactly.

Brian O'Hara (18:58):
It can get a little

Christopher Mitchell (18:58):
Bad. Now, there was an issue with some places, I mean, a lot of places where you have electric cooperatives, you also have them within their territory and, and often overlapping in odd ways you have telephone cooperatives. Many telephone cooperatives have been making great in great investments. However, there are areas where there is still a need for better service. And there was some friction that we saw in DC where we saw, I think the scarce public dollars in, in a conflict between electrics and the, and the telephone co-ops. What's happening there?

Brian O'Hara (19:27):
So I think the telephone coops serve about 30% of the US and we serve 56% of the landmass. So there was a lot of overlap there. And usually the electric co-op can be a larger entity and a little better funded. So I think there's been some concern on behalf of some of the telephone co-ops that the electric coop's gonna come in and either buy them out to, you know, take them outta business cuz they overbuild mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and for a while Eric said there was a drive within my membership to all go it alone, but I think that's starting to change now. Well first we, we have some good conversations with N Ntca, A N R E C and N TCA talk regularly. We just filed joint comments on the categorical exclusion proposal for NEPA at N T I A. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So we work together where we can and we have some good dialogue

Christopher Mitchell (20:11):
That is to try to reduce the, the permitting challenges in a lot of like rural areas Correct. Federal lands and

Brian O'Hara (20:18):
Things like that. Exactly. So we do work together and we're continuing to have conversations, but what we are seeing now is more and more of partnerships. Right. So in my six plus years, there was some partnerships early on, some didn't go great. Then there was that drive amongst my membership to go it alone. Now I'm starting to see more looking for partnerships and looking to their telcos mm-hmm. <Affirmative> in their area to partner. So it's actually been like kind of full circle there mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And so I think that is, that is helping. I think there's a lot of kind of better relationships going on there. And I also also point to one reason that is I remember talking to at least one state broadband official and when he first came on board several years ago, he would talk to the telephone co-ops and say, Hey, are you talking to the electric coops? They'd be like, no, we're not talking to them. Then he'd come and talk to the electric cops and say, Hey, are you guys talking to the telephone cops? They're like, nah, I don't talk to those guys. But then you got 'em in a room and you just did that a couple times. Things started to work and then you started to see these partnerships emerge

Christopher Mitchell (21:14):
Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. Yeah. No, it is remarkable how there's a a, a friction that has to be overcome like this inertia and it to some extent, if you could have like a, just a party and these people just hang out for a bit with a beer, they, they might have a lot more partnerships develop.

Brian O'Hara (21:28):
Yeah. And I think, you know, you look at it state by state, like your state, Minnesota and Tennessee are two states where I see a lot of partnerships for, for whatever reason mm-hmm. <Affirmative> the way the relationships were in that city. You heard Jonathan West earlier on our panel with Trilight, how he had a great relationship with the CEO from volunteer and that's what really got it going. So it really can be just relationships.

Christopher Mitchell (21:46):
And one of the things I think people should realize, which took me a while to figure out, I don't know, pop quiz, do you know the smallest electric rural co-op, how many meters they have?

Brian O'Hara (21:56):
Man, that's a tough question. I know we, we just had a new member join that long ago Block Island in Rhode Island, and that's pretty small. Okay. But I thought there was one in Wisconsin and a small island in the Gray Lakes,

Christopher Mitchell (22:06):
But I think almost all of them have more than 10,000 meters, probably more than, you know, like in that area. Would would that strike you as being

Brian O'Hara (22:12):
Right? I'd say that's our average. I think 10 to 12,000 is our average. Okay. I think we have a few one or two that have just a few hundred

Christopher Mitchell (22:19):
Okay. Electric heaters. Because that's what I, I think is interesting is in the telephone space, the, the family-owned telephone companies and the co-ops, they may be in the hundreds or the low thousands, whereas the electric co-ops are often in the tens of thousands. I thought, but as you're saying, your average is 10, 12,000. So Yeah,

Brian O'Hara (22:36):
I I think you're right though. I think we are larger. I think if you talk to ntc, I think their stats is, I think their average is 4,000 to 5,000 mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. So we're definitely probably about double that size normally. Right.

Christopher Mitchell (22:46):
And that's a big deal. I mean it is, you know on the in recently there was a discussion about utopia fiber and they were talking about how they really didn't achieve a kind of ability to be sustainable until they have 15,000 subscribers. And so that should give people a sense that like, this is challenging not just cuz of the density, but just overall, you know, you want to have more than 10, 15,000 subscribers if you can handle

Brian O'Hara (23:09):
It. Yeah. Economies of scale matter in these businesses. Right. So, you know, that's one thing that's gonna be interesting down the road. Look at historic universal service had a ongoing OPEX component mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, these new programs do not. Right.

Christopher Mitchell (23:24):
Yeah. You got some of these areas where, you know, you talk about like four or 10 homes per mile. There's places where there's multiple miles between homes. There is, and and yeah, you're gonna have someone that's driving for two or three hours, they're only gonna work on one or two customers per day.

Brian O'Hara (23:37):
Yep. They just can't do it. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, I, you know, I do have members that have came to me that they have sections of their service territory where it's like a, you know, a person half mile, right? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, I mean, it's just a, it's, it's so low. It, it's hard to believe that they're actually getting the service out there, but they're doing it. Yeah. And then, you know, it's one of the things you're running on a lean ship and you know, you lose a 288 count fiber, you gotta splice it together. I've learned a little bit about what that takes and <laugh>, you know, that's not something you do in a few hours. Yeah. So I was actually talking to a member the other day, you know, in a lot of rural areas, you go out there, you see a lot of bullet holes in stop signs or road signs mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, well now people have taken to taken shots at fiber cable. Yeah. Slicing fiber is a lot of work and it takes some time. And that means downtime. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> and it's, it's unfortunate, but it's something we're seeing. Right. You, you both have people who are aiming for it and people who are lousy shots trying to hit birds. Yes. Exactly. <Laugh>. Well, it's been wonderful to catch up with you, Brian. Well, thank you very much for the invitation. Great to join you.

Ry Marcattilio (24:35):
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