Tim Bryan Shares Views on Current Broadband Environment on LiveOak Fiber Podcast

Randy Sukow


Challenges to broadband network construction in rural areas remain, but NRTC CEO Tim Bryan sees broadband connections spreading throughout rural America at a rapid pace over the next three to four years. It is, he said during a recent podcast, a goal that energies NRTC and its employees.

“The mission of serving [the rural] part of the country and giving them equal access to the technology that exists everywhere else, I think, is just a fundamental, basic American value. That’s the best way to say it, and it really resonates,” Bryan said during “The Fiber,” an online presentation of LiveOak Fiber, a Brunswick, GA-based broadband provider.

NRTC provides call center services to LiveOak Fiber, which is also a client of NRTC’s CrowdFiber focused mapping and marketing specialties. The company is in the process of building fiber connections in the Emerald Coast region of Florida and Georgia’s Golden Isles. Much of the company’s task is to bring fiber to areas served by older, legacy internet distribution technologies.

Podcast host Kimber McCafferty, LiveOak’s director of Marketing, asked: “If you had anything to say to consumers listening or those who may not understand the technology, what’s the difference between [LiveOak Fiber] and the cable/fiber companies … sitting on an older infrastructure that really isn’t the same as what we’re bringing these communities?”

The competitive landscape varies throughout the nation, Bryan replied. In many places, cable operators are replacing coaxial cable pushing fiber deeper into the network to enhance throughput. But often there is no cable service rural areas, and in many areas, telcos still offer DSL service, he said.

“Most of our utility providers, whether they are electric or broadband providers, almost all of them have a local brand, they are involved in the community … They don’t have anything but that community to focus on,” Bryan said. “It’s not just bringing better technology. It’s bringing a vision of stewardship and care to that customer.”

Response to customer calls is a distinct example. Bryan described a case where Comcast needed 70 minutes to have a representative respond to a call from a nearby Georgia home. “Our standard is 90 seconds, but in 21 of the last 22 months, we provided it in under 60 seconds,” he said, describing NRTC’s call center service. “There’s a huge difference in the approach to the customer.”

Bryan sees a few challenges to broadband expansion that providers still face. A shortage of labor available to build networks is at the top of the list. “It’s tough to find field engineers and to find contract crews to do the construction. The entire labor market is tight and finding people in rural America that have the skills and qualifications is tough,” he said.

Inflation and supply chain delays have been a problem in recent years, although they have has eased somewhat over the Summer of 2023. “As soon as this [federal and state broadband] funding hits, it’s going to come back. It’s a question of getting materials and material pricing,” he said.

 And there is the perennial task of convincing consumers to buy into the broadband vision once the network is complete. “Inertia is a tough thing, even if the [existing broadband service] is bad,” he said. “The Weather Channel is 32; I know where to go. If I go to YouTube TV, how do I find it?”

(NRTC recently acquired the Pivot Group LLC, which will be able to help NRTC members make the case for broadband to rural communities.)

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