Roundup: Anti-Merger Polka Party

RFD-TV campaigns against telco merger • Economic downturn in the midwest • Electrifying rural Africa • The FCC and dropped phone calls • Attracting young professionals to small towns

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The chairman of the company that owns RFD-TV has launched a national campaign over proposed mergers of cable and satellite television giants.

Patrick Gottsch, head of Rural Media Group, says rural, independent television programming could disappear from cable and satellite if big mergers go through. Two proposals currently under federal review are Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s merger with DirecTV.

Many television executives privately oppose the mergers over fears that they will allow cable and satellite TV giants to dictate terms to cable TV channels and networks. But few TV executives are willing to speak out in public. Gottsch is the exception, reports the New York Times.

Another exception in Gottsch’s campaign is the audience he’s reaching. He’s visiting state fairs, polka dances, tractor pulls and other events where he’s likely to find viewers of his rural-themed television channel. And he’s asking them to write comments to the FCC about the proposed mergers.

In Washington, he has hired a lobbying firm and appeared before a House antitrust subcommittee, the FCC and the Justice Department. His two stations, RFD-TV and Family Net, have run spots urging viewers to speak out. Of the more than 63,000 comments filed to the F.C.C. about the proposed merger, about a fifth mention RFD-TV.

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Midwest grain and farmland prices are sliding, farm equipment sales are at an eight-year low, and upcoming large crop yields that could outpace demand are making it a rough time to be in agriculture in the middle of the country. The problem has been measured on an index of economic activity in the Midwest. And because nothing happens in a vacuum, the problem is affecting more than just farmers:

“This decline has spilled over into the broader rural economy, according to our survey,” said Ernie Goss, an economist from Creighton University. “I expect readings to move even lower in the months ahead.”

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There’s a renewed interest in providing electricity to rural Africa. The United States has promised to put an additional $12 billion into the White House’s Power Africa initiative. Because a large portion of the unpowered Africa is rural, plans are trending away from a central grid and toward renewable-energy-powered micro-grids that can power tens to thousands of homes. 

Renewable power is more expensive, though, and some don’t think it fair that those who can least afford it must pay more for the services.

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The Federal Communications Commission needs to get tougher on phone companies that drop calls to rural telephone numbers.

"I don't think the fines are big enough," said Brett Schuppner, general manager of the Reedsburg Utility Commission, a local telephone provider in Wisconsin. "In the short term, it's going to take the FCC cracking down and making these fines larger, so the cost of not doing what the carriers are supposed to do is greater than doing what they're supposed to."

The FCC has made settlements with three phone companies over dropped calls to rural areas. But the problem continues.

Calls to some rural numbers can get caught in elaborate routing schemes designed to avoid the cost of placing calls to rural areas. The result can be wrong numbers, erroneous reports that a number has been disconnected, poor call quality and fake ring sounds that make it sound like the party is not answering.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a rare, mainstream-media report on the problem of rural call completion.

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Two stories in different newspapers examine programs designed to get young professionals to start careers in rural places.

The Washington Post looks at a Nebraska Bar Association program to help new lawyers start practicing in rural areas. We’ve seen reports on similar programs in North Dakota and Iowa.

One part of the problem is communication, says Craig Schroeder of the youth engagement and hometown competitiveness program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

“Young people often don’t know about the opportunities available to them in small towns,” he says. “Great opportunities — the chance to make a real difference — are lost this way.”

Rural employers don’t advertise jobs outside town lines. New graduates assume no one’s hiring. Businesses dry up and fulfill the prophecies of both.

In South Dakota, the Argus-Leader looks at state efforts to recruit medical workers for rural communities:

The state has all kinds of ideas. Tuition reimbursements for health care graduates. Dollars for health care providers who take time from their jobs to mentor health care students. Incentive payments for nurses, dietitians, therapists and others who agree to work in towns of 10,000 or less.

Both stories feature profiles of young people who are choosing to return to rural areas after getting their education and training in a more urban setting. That jibes well with research featured in a Daily Yonder story earlier this month that found that high-achieving rural students are more apt to want to return to their rural communities after attending college.

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The oil boom in North Dakota is creating problems for agriculture. The Democratic candidate for state agriculture commissioner, Ryan Taylor, is proposing a “landowners bill of rights” to protect farmers and ranchers.

“We're going to harvest oil for, say, 30 or 40 year. But it will end at some time,” Taylor told Emily Guerin of Prairie Public Radio. “So we need to make sure, in the meantime, that agriculture is healthy and is not forsaken.”

 

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