On Tuesday, May 3, Tipmont Wintek President & CEO Ron Holcomb provided testimony for the United States Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety in Washington, D.C. The subjects were America’s broadband workforce development and barriers to broadband expansion — topics that have grown familiar at Tipmont Wintek as we continue to build fiber-to-the-home broadband across our electric service area.
Good morning. My name is Ron Holcomb, and I am the President and CEO of Tipmont Wintek.
Thank you to Senator Braun for the invitation today, Senator Hickenlooper for chairing the subcommittee, and all members of the subcommittee for their attention to today’s topics.
Tipmont Wintek is a premier provider of energy and communication services in north-central Indiana. Founded in 1939, Tipmont is a member-owned cooperative providing electric service to over 25,000 people.
In 2019, Tipmont acquired Wintek Corporation, a technology company, and began building fiber-to-the-home broadband in our electric-service area, as well as business technology solutions.
Ask my kids, who are in their late twenties, to choose between excellent broadband and heating at home. They’d take the internet and wear a coat.
That’s why, in America today, workforce development and broadband development are the same.
Without reliable broadband, talented people will live elsewhere. In rural America, this is a persistent problem.
It starts with inadequate definitions of broadband. In rural America, “broadband” means the technology a carrier can deliver. It should mean a service that meets needs as the customer sees them.
Broadband is a doctor reading radiological studies at home in real time. It’s an entrepreneur with basement servers for a startup. It’s a family of four online all at once.
That broadband wasn’t available to our electric customers, so we chose to provide it.
To do so, we have built a broadband workforce. Like anyone, we face challenges to fill our team.
But rather than pursue “perfect” employees, we develop the right people, feed their need to learn on go, and provide projects that build comprehensive skill development.
With broadband career outreach programs, we also build tomorrow’s team today – sparking career interest early, creating a culture of industry-focused apprenticeships, and building a talent pipeline.
No matter how someone comes to our broadband team, they agree: If it’s not fiber, it’s not broadband.
Inferior technology can’t cut it. Just ask Susan Benedict, a customer with an interior design business.
From her back porch, Susan can see Lafayette, Indiana, an area with 200,000 people and Purdue University. But DSL is the best anyone would do for her internet. Susan’s time spent offline has created a 25% loss for her business.
Meanwhile, a local neurologist lost access to life-saving technology for stroke victims because her home DSL connection was too slow.
As COVID-19 hit, we heard from teachers who drove thumb drives to kids without internet access or families who sent their children to live with relatives who had better internet.
Rural Americans are used to workarounds because they’re used to being left behind.
The rural broadband market applies a private-sector business model to public-infrastructure deficiency. If rural broadband were profitable, this would work. In most cases, it is not.
It’s time to admit this market doesn’t work and consider alternatives.
Despite risk, Tipmont Wintek is meeting everyone’s needs with superior technology and an obligation to serve.
And you won’t find a better investment than fiber broadband. In 2018, we commissioned a Purdue study that found communities would receive $4 in return on every dollar invested in fiber broadband for them. If every Indiana co-op did this, the return would be $12 billion over 20 years.
Broadband grant programs support our work. But those programs have pitfalls, from inconsistent speed requirements to coverage data that serves providers more than people. I’m happy to share my ideas to simplify and improve the grant process.
Fiber is the fastest and most affordable, reliable, and future-proof technology. Building it is not easy. But our customers love it.
Most internet providers on the American Consumer Satisfaction Index hover in the high 60s. Tipmont Wintek is at 85. That beats Chick-fil-A. If only we could add chicken sandwiches to monthly packages.
Jokes aside, that score represents years of hard work from dedicated people. We’ve connected 4,000 customers since 2019. Today alone, we’ll connect 10 more.
That means families who once sacrificed income to care for disabled children can work remotely. Students can learn online easily and in their own home. Businesses have new opportunity to grow.
Multiply that by a few thousand. This is the generational difference made by broadband that meets rural Americans where they are – to attract talent, build better workforces, reshape policy, and improve lives.
I look forward to answering your questions. Thank you again for inviting me today.
Rob Ford is Tipmont and Wintek's communication director, a role he's held since 2015.
Rob has a bachelor's and a master's in Communication from Purdue University. He lives in West Lafayette with his wife and three children and has a life-sized Yoda statue in his office. Away from the office, you’ll find Rob working on his golf swing, jump shot, or hope for a Purdue basketball national title – all futile endeavors.