A Case For TL 9000 Quality Management In Rural ILECs

We attended the NTCA (The Voice of Rural Telecommunications) Annual Conference in San Diego last week.  The rural telecom industry is certainly in a state of flux as a result of the new FCC order regarding telecom reform of the USF/ICC, which was released in late October 2011.

While there were many great wireless, video and broadband technologies represented on the EXPO floor, the majority of the conference centered around this theme.  Meetings also took place regarding the potential merger of the NTCA and OPASTCO (Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunication Companies).  We have posted a few brief video clips on our YouTube channel.

Our article is not about the FCC order and the various interpretations and implementations that will begin as a result.  Instead, we contend that TL 9000 quality should be a part of the rural ILEC “toolkit”, as a way to deal with the business implications they will now face.

However, it’s important to understand the basics and how they do apply to rural telecom:

The US Federal Communications Commission has approved major changes in the country’s Universal Service Fund (USF) aimed at focusing more on broadband expansion.  Starting from 2013, the FCC will also change its cost model for determining the level of funding, adopt a competitive bidding system for awarding the funds and tighten controls to ensure that subsidized operators meet the coverage promised.  The order as it currently stands, will likely reduce the compensation and revenues of many rural ILECs.

Those are just a few of the changes with the new 700+ page order.  Here are some supporting articles that help put things in layman’s terms, such as links to Telecom Paper, the AT&T Public Policy Blog and an opinion piece from GigaOM.   If you want to delve deeper, you can visit the US government sites for the National Broadband Plan and the FCC (read the actual documentation of the order).

What we do know is that many rural ILECs are going to experience a reduction in their compensation (reimbursements) and revenues while being driven by the marketplace to compete with increased product and service offerings that must include wireless, broadband, video, IPTV and/or “triple play“.  Let’s face it; it’s all about video and download speeds.  They must do this while cutting their own operating costs, improving productivity and scaling their organizations to grow, consolidate or possibly face sale or closure.

Some of the larger ILECs, many of which have their roots in rural telecom, are embracing telecom quality by implementing TL 9000 either in their own operations or by driving it through their supply chains.  CenturyLink and Windstream are just a few examples.  Many of the largest equipment and service providers that supply rural telecom such as ADTRAN, Alcatel-Lucent, Calix, Ericsson, Fujitsu, GENBAND, Juniper Networks, KGP Logistics, MasTec, Shields Environmental (and so many others) are either TL 9000 certified, obtaining certification or are active in QuEST Forum, the governing body over the standard.

Yet, there is hesitancy on the part of small to mid-size ILECs to consider TL 9000 as a tool that can be used during these times to improve profitability and their chances of survival.  For us in quality management, we know the value of measurements and the risk management aspect of TL 9000.  We see firsthand from our work with clients, the many ways even the smallest of companies (10 employees or less), benefit from TL 9000 and ISO 9001 implementation:

  • productivity and operational efficiencies
  • reduction in rework and operating costs
  • revenue growth
  • ability to scale operations
  • improved partnerships with suppliers and supplier quality
  • engaged employees for overall business innovation

Some of the smallest Telco providers (less than 50 employees) can implement TL 9000 for the cost of attending a few NTCA meetings and networking events.  It’s that cost effective (and possible), through a webinar based program.  The statistics and case studies (found on our knowledge base and at QuEST Forum) document the bottom line “payback” of improved quality.

As more ILECs begin to rollout new broadband products and services, how do they cost effectively integrate these services with their existing installation, engineering and billing structures?

Specific to rural ILECs, who wouldn’t want to reduce field costs, truck rolls, outages and faulty installations?  That low hanging fruit in terms of reducing the cost of poor quality and rework (which is often 10-15% of operating costs) could more than make up for the compensation reductions resulting from the FCC order, while making an ILEC better able to compete in a “triple play” marketplace.

We hope as a greater clarity emerges between the meanings of “benchmarking data” vs. “compliance measurements”, that rural ILECs will begin to take serious notice of what their key suppliers and their largest competitors employ: TL 9000, the Telecommunications Quality Management Standard.

As an associate member of the NTCA, we wish the best to these very needed rural providers as they navigate through tough times and uncharted territories.  If you need information on TL 9000 implementation or TL 9000 training, we are happy to provide a complimentary overview webinar for your executive team.  Please contact info@bizphyx.com.

You can also visit the TL 9000 website and the QuEST Forum website to obtain further information, including a database of TL 9000 certified companies.