The Transformation of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative - Episode 546 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Alyssa Clemsen Roberts, President and CEO of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC). Two and a half years ago, there were no plans to add broadband to its portfolio. Two membership votes and a new CEO later, and NHEC is building 25 miles of new fiber a week across its footprint, and planning to finish a $50-million grant-funded project in the next three years. Alyssa talks with Christopher about what the transformation's been like, their successes and challenges, and how electric cooperatives all over the country are participating in this watershed moment. They discuss supply chain issues around poles and transformers, BEAD funding, changing the quality of life and economic opportunity for those living in rural New Hampshire.

This show is 29 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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Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

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


Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (00:07):
At the end of the day, people don't work at the co-op to get rich. They work at the co-op to serve because they have a love of their community.

Christopher Mitchell (00:14):
Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcasts. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in St. Paul, Minnesota. And today I'm speaking with a repeat guest again, we've got Alyssa Clemson Roberts, who is the c e O of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative. Welcome to the show.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (00:35):
Thanks, Christopher. I appreciate being here again.

Christopher Mitchell (00:37):
I'm excited to talk to you. I'm, you know, you, we've talked before at some of your previous stops and I feel like you've worked for most of the electric cooperatives in the nation now, <laugh>?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (00:47):
No, just a couple.

Christopher Mitchell (00:49):
<Laugh>. So with a name like N H E C, can we assume that there's one electric cooperative in New Hampshire and you're the one?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (00:55):
Yes, we are the only electric cooperative in the state of New Hampshire.

Christopher Mitchell (00:59):
But you have a pretty, pretty good footprint. You guys are a pretty good size.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (01:02):
Yes, we are the second largest electric utility in the state. We serve about 6,000 miles of line, 86,000 meters, and we are the largest electric cooperative in New England.

Christopher Mitchell (01:13):
And just for your background, for people who for whom you might be a new name I feel like you started off kind of doing policy and, and then think, work out with the trade group. Was it with it UTC originally?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (01:27):
Yes. So that's actually my first job in this space was at Rural Utility Service. Oh, okay. As a loan specialist in their broadband program. And then I worked for a broadband-over-powerline provider. And then I went to work for U T C and about 26 co-ops across the country. And we grew that group to over 200, trying to spread the word that we, you know, electric cooperatives were such a natural fit to provide rural broadband service for decades, you know, that had been really ignored areas.

Christopher Mitchell (01:55):
And then you went to Pedernales, which I think was not gonna get into the broadband business. But

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (01:59):
Well, I went to Ozarks Oh, in Arkansas. Right. And they did, and then I went to Pedernales. Yep. And they, they did not, we, they took a brief look at it while I was there, but decided not to.

Christopher Mitchell (02:09):
But then you went to Mon- one of my favorite stories, actually, it's kind of funny because Delta Electric in Delta Montrose Electric as Authority a association, D M E A Delta Montrose Electric Association in the Western Slope was one of the other new was one of the other co-ops I'm familiar with, where the original management and leadership of the board said, no, we don't wanna touch this broadband thing. And then a coordinated campaign of people that were living there said, yes, this is really important. We need you on board. And they changed their mind. And that's exactly what happened in New Hampshire too. So I feel like if nothing else, you're, you've been involved with cooperatives that are truly living up to that democratic ideal.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (02:49):
Yeah, no, and I think it's really important that your members are on board with this. You know, your members own you as an electric utility, and, and there are elements of risk that come with entering into a broadband business, right? There's so much reward there. But when you're members that this is what they want, that we're here to fill a need. So I think to me, it's such a natural fit. We know the space, we know the area, we know we know how to meet rural needs. We know how to build in rural areas. We know how to maintain. We already own, you know, the poles and the wires and the whole bit. So it is such a natural fit. On top of that, I think where our electric utilities are going for the future, that fiber network is going to help get us where we need to be to be a utility of the future. So again, strengthens the electric grid, provides benefits to our members. What more could you ask for,

Christopher Mitchell (03:38):
Well, before we talk more about what New Hampshire is doing, I do wanna ask you, when we talked, when you were at Pedernales , I feel like, if I'm remembering correctly, we talked about how one of the barriers that, that the electric cooperatives faced in getting into this space is that in many cases, management is nearing retirement age. And it's not only difficult to in, to begin a big project that you're not gonna see through, it may not be a very wise decision. And so I'm curious, has that changed over the years? Do you see a different barrier right now? Or is are there any major barriers to electric cooperatives getting into this space right now?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (04:12):
I think there are still, you're still seeing that there are a fair amount of electric cooperative CEOs that are set to turn over in this space. I think too, there's this propaganda that, that broadband is too hard or that electric cooperative employees aren't skilled and, and they are skilled. It's honing those skills, it's changing those skills, it's expanding those skills. But I think just some of the fear of the unknown. And I think there's a lot of fear mongering, if I'm honest with you, from our friendly cable and telco friends, <laugh>, who quite frankly, they don't want us in the business because we're challenging what has been considered status quo for a long time. And that's, you know, promise you something in our advertisement and deliver far less at your door. Whereas we're saying, this is what it's gonna cost, this is what we're gonna deliver, and then we actually, you know, go do that.

Christopher Mitchell (05:03):
Well, and it's, it's remarkable. In some ways, it's magical. I feel like when I look at what electric cooperatives are doing in terms of delivering hundreds of megabits per second at a base tier, often in the 60 or $70 range, and sometimes even below that, that is truly remarkable when I feel like other operators just can't even get to that. And I, I have to assume that that's a combination of having access to the poles, having crews that are already well trained and not having to do a lot of marketing because you've built that trust for decades. Are there other factors, like how do, how do too many co-ops offer such a reasonable price and such challenging circumstances?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (05:43):
Well, I would just say, I think that the wires and poles sort of help. I mean, we know our territory, right? But at the end of the day, we still have to market because we have areas of competition. You, you still have to provide the service and deliver the good, at the end of the day with the differences is we're not propping up legacy systems, right. That we have over and overinvested in and strung along for years and years and years, we're starting from scratch. And the second driver in my mind is this, my motive for, for delivering broadband isn't profit. I'm not saying that our business, we don't want it to be profitable. We do mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, but that's not my motive. My mo motive is not generating profits. My motive is providing service. So not having a legacy system to prop up and, and having your motive be service changes the ballgame we're actually offering, our first level of sevi service is called Basic. It's at a hundred megabit symmetrical service fiber to the home. And it's 49.95 a month, which is pretty amazing. Our, our next level is the, you know, gigabit symmetrical, again, 79 95 a month. And then we're offering a two gig, which I can't wait until that rolls into my house. I'm still waiting for the area of my, where I live to be built out. But that's 99 a month for two gig.

Christopher Mitchell (07:02):
Ugh. Still paying this. Tonight's

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (07:03):

Christopher Mitchell (07:03):

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (07:04):
I'm just showing off now, aren't I?

Christopher Mitchell (07:05):
Yeah, I mean, I live in St. Paul, Minnesota, part of a metro area with about 3 million people. We got Comcast cable and I'm paying more than a hundred dollars a month. Yeah. For gigabit down and 40 gigabit up. And a got a big old bandwidth cap on that too, that I'm sitting here four days before the end of the month and I'm wondering if I'm gonna exceed it or not. I'm kind of dialing back a little bit right now. <Laugh>.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (07:26):
Yep. No, we have that, we have that happen too. We get the notices and then I start getting billed extra above and beyond, which is always my favorite thing to happen. But, you know, our lives are driven by data.

Christopher Mitchell (07:38):
What are you seeing in terms of take up then? Are you getting a lot of people taking that gigabit option, the middle tier?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (07:43):
We are, we're seeing a lot more people take the gigabit than we thought. And I'll be honest, we've seen a little more interest in the two gig even too. And I think some of that's, you know, bragging rights or maybe they have multiple teenagers in, in their house, because God knows, you know, they're gonna steal up that bandwidth as fast as you can turn it out. But we are, we're seeing a fair amount in that gigabit range, which I think is spectacular. I think people are seeing today too, the need for symmetrical service. Right. It used to be all about the download, but as you and I are sitting here, we're on a video call too. Right. So, you know, having that symmetrical service services part of the, you know, part of the need for today's, you know, modern workforce, modern education, modern

Christopher Mitchell (08:25):
Anything. Yes. I'm, I'm frequently sharing large files with other people now that I'm working from home, much more than I used to. And there's actually times where I have to go into our symmetrical gigabit connection in the office just to be able to transfer like multi hundred gigabit files, video files, generally with a contractor or something like that. And I, first of all, it would take too long and it would eat into my cap here from Comcast. So there's a, I I feel like I'm usually about two years ahead of where the public is going. So I expect we'll see that happening more to more people. But let's jump into New Hampshire. So your service territory is kind of a weirdly shaped one, if I remember correctly.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (09:06):
<Laugh>, it is weirdly shaped. We've kind of got a big pod in the middle, and then little pod on the top and a little pod in the south that is, it's a different territory. I, I always laugh because we probably have crazier maps than political maps. Look, so <laugh> you, it's just how electric, you know, d divisions and barriers and lines of demarcation go.

Christopher Mitchell (09:25):
So let's go back back before you were the general, before you were the C e O, and there was an effort to, to encourage the electric cooperative to go into broadband. I think they needed a 65% vote, and they got 63% or something like that. But the leadership saw the writing on the wall and said, all right, let's, let's figure this out. And then if we fast forward, I think you've had some some support from the states. So tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are right now.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (09:54):
I, in 2019, our members started asking about broadband. And for broadband, you know, this is pre covid mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, they started asking for broadband. And then in June they attempted to change the articles of incorporation. And like you said it was a majority voted to change them, but not the super majority as required. And then in October of 2020, the members did meet the minimum threshold for the vote, and they voted to change the bylaws. And then shortly after that, the co-op began offering some limited service through some CARES funding, you know, to a, a few communities throughout our territory. And then, gosh, in January, they formed the NH broadband, which is our wholly owned subsidiary that's delivering the broadband service. So would've been January, 2021, and then December of 2021, signed a contract with Connects on to do the build with them.

And then in the last year, we started offering service in Acworth and Sandwich. And Sandwich was our first build with connects on, in September, and I think it was late October, early November, the state awarded us a 50 million grant to build Moto Grafton County, and then some small slivers of the counties around that, which it'll end up being built to a, I think about 30% of our members. So finish that build, we'll start building to the rest. I know that, you know, we're committed to, to doing this and doing this. Right. And we know that our members need and want service, so we're moving as fast as we can right now, as fast as snow, and now the mud will allow us to move

Christopher Mitchell (11:29):
<Laugh>. Yeah. Nothing like having a particularly severe winter, right? When you're trying to get all these time schedules get all organized. I just come back to the just the jealousy that we have for people in the south. Not only, not only do they have 12 months, that it's easier to na to, to do the micro-trenching and other kind of techniques that that are really impractical in my experience in most of our northern climates.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (11:55):
No, it's true. I just watched a video of someone brushing off their car. It was like a meme, and she kept saying, no alligators, no hurricanes, <laugh>, no earthquakes, you know? And I thought, well, that's true. As I'm brushing snow off my car in late March, and it's, you know, 30 degrees in raining ice, no, no alligators, no hurricanes and earthquakes. So,

Christopher Mitchell (12:14):
Yeah, I don't know how your roads are though. This has been a brutal year for us, and we're simulating the surface of the moon right now. So it's pretty rough.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (12:22):
Yeah, I would say that that is one of the first things my family noticed. We moved to New Hampshire, as you know, I'm from the Midwest, in fact, grew up in Iowa, in Minnesota. It's one thing I haven't really lived around for a long time, is like roads that are impacted by this harsher weather. And so it's been it's been eye-opening for us as well.

Christopher Mitchell (12:41):
So I'm, I'm curious if there's something that keeps you up right now around the broadband pl work. Is there, is there a common thing that's popping up?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (12:48):
You know, I think one of the things that I worry about right now is supply chain, like everyone, right? And it's more on the meat and potatoes side of it. I know that we have pole replacements to make, trying to get poles right now, the size poles and the quality of poles that, you know, we like to build with has become a huge issue. Getting talent to be able to do this type of work, because there are so many people that are building fiber to the home networks right now, attracting the talent, you know, convincing them that they wanna live in New Hampshire with our eight months of winter and prelude to winter <laugh> can be, can be challenging. But I did just convince a former d e a staffer to come join me out here. He's built thousands of miles of fiber and I'm really excited to have him come out here and help us with, with our project and get that underway. And I will say, above and beyond all of that is, can we build it fast enough? How fast can I get to my members? Because number one, I know they want it. Number two, I know they need it. And number three, they deserve it. So how do I get it there as fast as I can, but safely and with a good plan, right? Those, those are the big challenges.

Christopher Mitchell (13:59):
Well, so for like a, with a 50 million grant or the, the 50 million that the state is giving you one way or another how long will it take you to deploy all of that?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (14:10):
We think about three years. We're moving pretty fast. We wanna get up to a point where we're building about 20 to 25 miles of fiber a week, Conexon likes to build 20 miles a week. We're gonna have to build a little faster than that just because there are gonna be times where we can't build i e mud, i e snow. So we're, we're gonna get to a point where we're moving a little bit faster even than we are right now, which will be great. But, you know, you just can't go fast enough. I, I had a woman tell me the other day she said, Alyssa, I want you to know this. You either have fiber or you don't. Your promises mean nothing to me,

Christopher Mitchell (14:45):

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (14:46):
And, and while I was like, oh, you know, I totally get it. She stabbed me in the heart. I I wanted to lay down and beg her forgiveness and bring her the fiber myself. It's true. If you don't have it, you don't have it. And so I would say we are especially cognizant and sensitive to that. And so we're trying to get, get moving as quickly as we can in a way that makes sense too, right? Because you've gotta manage a good build.

Christopher Mitchell (15:09):
Well, are you seeing actual shortages that are slowing down your build? Because that's a question I have for everyone. Everyone's worried about the supply chain shortage, but when I ask about reality versus the fears there's a concern that it will take you 60 weeks to get a truck or something like that. But then it seems like a lot of materials coming earlier now you probably have plenty of places to store things. Are you getting early shipments now as some of the other providers are backing off?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (15:36):
We are, we're doing early shipments on almost everything. Again, the only thing I would say right now I'm really short on is Poles. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And some of that is, we had a really brutal winter and we had one storm that had over 120 broken poles in a single storm, which is astronomical amount. So for us, there's ways to do some temporary attachments and come back and do some replacement, but, you know, that just adds complexity and time and, and you know, everything else. So right now it's poles. And I know we've had some issues before with other items. I think there were some fiber delays, but right now we've got a pretty good stockpile and we know at the speed we're moving, so we've been able to buy out ahead, buy out ahead. And then I know we are waiting on a couple servers as well, but they've come in and they've been, you know, upgraded and replaced.

And, and again, like everyone, you know, you're having employee shortages and everything else. So when we need work from contractors, you know, sometimes there's delays and getting actual, you know, crews in place to get, to get moving or installations done, or upgrades that you want to your back haul. So it's just little delays, nothing massive, but it all adds up. And then, you know, weather weather's put us back about probably six weeks from where we'd like to be. So when the mud starts to clear out, we'll really start to hopefully gain some ground and get ahead is where I'd, I would like to enter next winter a little bit ahead of where we're supposed to be.

Christopher Mitchell (16:59):

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (17:00):
Yeah. And let's knock on wood, maybe it will be not quite as brutal of a winter,

Christopher Mitchell (17:04):
Right? I, I do think we have first of all, as someone who does sports photography, I'm always looking for that early spring, and I always, every year I feel like we're due. And some years we get it, but most of the time I feel like we don't <laugh>.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (17:16):
So yeah, I, I think spring here and I just might be guessing, is just an extension of winter

Christopher Mitchell (17:22):
<Laugh>. Yeah, <laugh>. Well,

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (17:24):
I'm, I, if somebody asked me, are you ever gonna not wear winter clothes? I was like, I don't know. I haven't had a chance to not wear winter clothes yet.

Christopher Mitchell (17:30):
Well, we were up to 35 the other day and I was going out, I just went to the store and my T-shirt. So <laugh>, ah, felt

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (17:35):
Nice. I'm not that brave.

Christopher Mitchell (17:37):

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (17:37):
If it's 35, I'm the one going, you need a coat, put your coat on.

Christopher Mitchell (17:41):
I know very little about Poles. What I do know they were talking about most of the poles come out of Brazil. Do you, is that gonna, is that, I mean, do, do you have like a different supplier or is there like kind of a, a big a big supply chain issue with them all being sourced from a similar place? Or is there some variety?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (18:00):
You know, I think it just depends what kind of a pole you use. It depends on the class of pole you use, the height of pole you use. Everyone likes the pole that we like to use and we like a 45 foot foot pole. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And it's, it's been hard to find. And as we're calling around, everyone's always like, well, how about you take this instead? Right. <laugh>. And I think, you know, again, I don't know if it's tree growth or, or what it is or if it's just moving items around, or again, if other places are facing, you know, shortages. But I know that our typical suppliers, it's delayed not as much as some of our electric infrastructure has been delayed. Like, don't even get me started on how long it takes to get a transformer. You know, it's, well those 52 weeks in counting right now.

Christopher Mitchell (18:41):
I was gonna say, cuz those take like a year to manufacture, don't they?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (18:44):
They should not take a year to manufacturer, it's just, nobody has them right now. It's, it's insane. And the price has gone up over a hundred percent. So it's just, it's crazy

Christopher Mitchell (18:53):
Because that's the, that's the nightmare that I feel like a lot of us worry about regarding hackers in the grid is a potential for them to damage a bunch of transformers and then not even be able to bring power back online for substantial parts of the grid.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (19:05):
Well, I worry more at this point, almost from the physical security aspect of it too, is you're watching people, you know, take shots at transformer substations, right? We all have security measures in place, but there are not enough security measures to prevent every aspect of attack. Right?

Christopher Mitchell (19:21):
You can't just push the fences back in every case and create a much larger room,

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (19:25):
Build them higher, and make them concrete. You hit a point where it's like, okay, you've gotta start balancing security with expenditure and a harding of your grid. And, and I will say, I know we all do the best we can, but, you know, it's not a perfect world any of us live in, that's for sure.

Christopher Mitchell (19:39):
So what are you seeing in terms of the places that you've already built out? Are you seeing interesting differences in sandwich as compared to other towns that are, that are still waiting in terms of like population shift or jobs moving or anything like that?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (19:53):
No, I don't, I don't know that we have enough data to, to share that yet because the build and sandwich just got completed. But I will tell you what we have seen since Covid is that our area was, you know, about 40% seasonal and we're getting ready to do a survey and ask some questions, but we think people have come to New Hampshire and not gone home mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and that they've stayed here in their second home because they like the state of New Hampshire and they like the hiking and the outdoors and the, you know, boating and the snowshoeing and the skiing and all the great things that you can find here. So we think people have stayed remote more than they would have before. And I think as we continue to build out, you're gonna continue to see that trend grow because of the access you have.

Christopher Mitchell (20:37):
I heard an interview with Governor Sununu in which he basically made the case that New Hampshire is the best place to be, you know, it's surrounded by a bunch of miserable places to live. So <laugh>, he was you know, he may have been working the room a little bit in that case. But I am, I'm curious, since you've been to so many different areas and you've had this this chance to watch the, the industry grow up, what are some things that you've seen that are common across electric cooperatives getting into this? And then what are some things that have been quite different from co-op to co-op?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (21:06):
I think one thing that's common is what you talk about changes when you work at an electric cooperative. Usually the first thing you hear from is when you run into people and they know you're a co-op employee, they wanna ask you about outages or they wanna ask you about, you know, upgrades. Now the only thing anybody wants to talk to you about is when you're bringing them broadband. And so I think that has been very common across all of the cooperatives I've been

Christopher Mitchell (21:33):
Wait, can we pause there for a second? Yeah. is that true for both people that have nothing at their home as well as people that might have a cable service in their home? Just so people have a sense? Yes.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (21:42):
I have cable service in my home. I, I will admit. And my neighbor actually stopped me the other day and said, Hey, Alyssa, I saw the, I saw the NH broadband truck not too far from our house. When are we getting broadband? And he's like, do we get it a little sooner because I live next to you? And I said, well, no, we'll probably be the last ones <laugh> to get it on this build, so I'm sorry you, you have a misfortune of living next to me. But he was very excited and also as service and wanted to know like, what, what I was recommending. And it was, it was very funny. And then another neighbor walked up to ask a question about it. So I, I, everywhere I go, that's like the number one question we get, it doesn't matter. I think the other thing that I have found in common is when you're starting the inpro process, employees are very uneasy, right?

Because that's a lot of change and transformation for an organization to go through mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And whenever there's unknown and change, you have this kind of, it's almost like an angsty, you know, pre-teen growing phase. And then you can watch, watch people really change because at the end of the day, people don't work at the co-op to get rich. They work at the co-op to serve because they have a love of their community and, and they know why they're here. And so as the members are starting to get excited and get service and they can see this, you have this, you know, kind of change with how employees feel about it. It's no longer just more work and it, it is more work, but they see the value in what, what is happening. And I think that has been pretty consistent to everywhere I've been that has gone, gone through this, you see a rub between what's more important electric or broadband and, and I would say electric <laugh>, but broadband's a close second, so we just bring it along with us, right?

Christopher Mitchell (23:29):
Yes. And, and I think for people who aren't very familiar with co-ops you know, they should know that employees who have been there for a while may not have been there during the discussions about whether or not to take a share of a nuclear power plant or to get involved with propane or to get involved with satellite technologies. But co-ops have had to make hard decisions in the past, and some of those have had very challenging financial repercussions that that leave a mark, frankly.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (23:57):
And that is absolutely true. And I think that's, you know, true here. And I think it's been true other places as well. The only real difference that I have seen is, you know, just the pace of build. Again, the weather plays a huge role in that. I think now too, as you're going into the business, there are so many footsteps to follow, right? You're not inventing the wheel as you go. So you, you have a sense of comfort that I think the first builders of fiber just didn't really have. Right? I mean, Bob Hans at Midwest Energy and Communications was blazing a trail. Mike Kaiser at Bark Electric, blazing a trail Mitchell Johnson at Ozarks Electric in Arkansas blazing that trail. Randy Clint at Como before he was on blazing that trail, Jonathan Chaps at the FCC going, wow, I see it now. Mm-Hmm.

I see this cooperative difference. There are some key players in this Dave Sala in Douglas Electric in Oregon. I mean him and vi Adamur Sheila Allgood. I mean, these people were blazing a trail and they had no idea what the next step looked like. They just knew they had to take it. Now as we're building, we all have this luxury of, of picking up the phone. It's one of the first things I do when we're at a crossroads, I shoot a note out to a couple co-ops that we're working with, or I go, Hey, Bob, can I put my C f O on the phone with your C F o? What, what do these reports look like? Or, Hey, Mitchell, would you guys mind sharing with us how you built your fiber lease? Or you know, Hey Bob, what are you doing with this? I have all this great network of people and experience that we can call on. Were those were those first. I mean, they were just stepping off a cliff every single day as they built their, their networks. And they've been wildly successful. And I mean, they've changed people's lives for sure. They've changed the shape of their communities and their counties and their states. It's, it's remarkable.

Christopher Mitchell (25:53):
It is. I mean, especially recognizing that I, I think Arkansas and Mississippi will be states that make major gains from historically having really some of the worst Internet access to having some of the best Internet access in rural areas.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (26:06):
Incredible. Arkansas was 47th outta 50 in, in the country for broadband. And when those co-ops are done, I mean, they've gotta be in the top 10,

Christopher Mitchell (26:18):
I would think

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (26:18):
So. And you talk about leadership and putting your money where your mouth is, it's pretty incredible.

Christopher Mitchell (26:24):
So last question is relating to BEAD. I'm curious, since you were talking about being in this network. When I look at all of the rules and the concerns that people have, there's a part of me that just sits back and says, as long as the co-ops can find a way to get a big chunk of this money, it'll be okay. So I'm curious how you're looking at BEAD and how you hear other people looking at and knowing that each state will have a slightly different take on it, but generally, are you looking at this as an opportunity? Are you nervous about some aspects of it? How do you think about it?

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (26:53):
You know, I think anytime that there's money that's put out, you get nervous because it's money and you know, it's gonna be competitive. But I also think, you know, we're looking at it here, we're just waiting for the state to come out with the rules. And we think the BA's done a pretty good job thus far of administering programs and, you know, gonna have to trust the process that they know what they're doing. And then we're gonna take a look at what makes sense for our area that's left and what makes sense from N H E C's perspective. And then how do we go, how do we go be competitive for those funds, and how do we bring in as much funding as we can to help, you know, serve what we think is, are the most underserved parts of the state. So I'm not too concerned yet.

I'm just kind of sitting back and watching, and as I tell my board, you know, they're, they're always watching. And I, I would say I've got some very engaged board members, especially on the broadband side. They're very passionate about this. And their passion really helped bring this to fruition up here is you know, I'm really concerned right now getting the 50 million built and spent and done and, you know, we'll grab what we can along the way, but right now we're just moving forward. You just keep moving forward. And I think all, most cooperatives are in the same boat that I'm in, right? They're building, they're going and we're gonna grab what we can, but our heads are down and we're busy and we're just gonna keep.

Christopher Mitchell (28:10):
Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time today.

Alyssa Clemsen Roberts (28:12):
Oh my gosh. Thanks so much for having me. It's always a privilege and an honor.

Ry Marcattilio (28:16):
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