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JJ’s (AKA “Captain Light”) Super View of 2023

Fiber Broadband Association Chairman of the Board, Joseph Jones “JJ”, had plenty of good things to talk about as he sat down with Fiber Forward, with a successful annual event and an organization that continues to grow as it listens to its members and responds to their needs and requests. For anyone familiar with JJ’s decades-long involvement with Fiber Connect and the FBA Conference Committee, including serving as its Chair, it’s no surprise he led the September conversation discussing the August event as we spoke with him in September.

“What’s fresh on my mind is we just got done pulling off the most successful fiber industry event in history,” said Jones. “We were in Orlando, Florida, for Fiber Connect and had 4,000 attendees. We had great content, great speakers, great exhibitors, and great feedback. I couldn’t be prouder of the conference committee and our leadership team. We’ve also been hosting regional events this year leading up to Fiber Connect. We’ve had four regional events throughout the U.S. and have been receiving great attendance at those, focusing more on specific regional issues and trying to capture leaders from rural communities.”

JJ cited progress in public policy and workforce development as areas where FBA has made progress. “A lot of this has been Gary Bolton’s vision and what he’s been trying to accomplish through expanding our reach through the entire fiber industry eco-system,” said JJ. “Another piece we’re doing well is listening to our members and responding to their concerns. We’ve had feedback for the last couple of years on some of the areas we’ve been missing, and I think we’ve answered the call. 

“We got laser-focused on public policy. For a lot of operators, number one on their wish list was having a stronger presence in DC and getting a dedicated person working on government affairs and public policy.  We listened to our members and the Association has recently brought on this year a Vice President of Public Policy. Marissa Mitrovich has done a fantastic job thus far. I feel she’s delivered, and we are continuing to have a strong presence in D.C. and starting to have that with leaderships at the states as well.”

With an industry-wide labor shortage and a need to add between 200,000 to 250,000 workers over the next decade to end the digital divide, the Association had to do its part in creating the conditions to have more skilled technicians in the fiber industry. 

“FBA jumped to the forefront by starting the OpTIC Path™ workforce development program,” said Jones. “We’ve got staff dedicated to that and FBA is partnering with different states and groups through community colleges, technical colleges, veteran programs, and incarceration education programs. OpTIC Path is providing hands-on training in broadband and fiber splicing and it’s making a big difference.”

Over the past year, membership growth has increased both overall and through the active participation of members at the premier level. “By year’s end, we’ll probably be close to 500 member companies,” said Jones. “Over half the membership are network operators. It’s really encouraging that we’ve got that much support from operators. But I also continue to see new vendors entering the space, equipment vendors, consultants, engineering firms, and fulfillment service groups. There are a lot of new champions for the industry.”

But it’s the growth in Premier Membership that has Jones excited for the future of the organization, based upon his own experiences and the participation of his company, On Trac, Inc., going back two decades. “Since we joined as a premier back in 2005, we’ve seen tremendous value for our company,” said Jones. “FBA historically had 25 to 40 premier members for several years. Over the past two years, we’ve gone from around 40 to over 100 Premier Member companies. The Premier Members of the Association get to have a true voice in FBA; they’re the ones that get to vote on bylaw changes, vote for the board of director nominees, and run for the board. To see the growth of our Premier Members now be over 100 in just a couple of years is really encouraging.”

But with growth comes challenges and the need for more people to step up. “We’ve got more opportunities to serve the entire ecosystem of the industry and what that looks like from an association standpoint is a lot of different committees, a lot of different working groups,” said Jones. “What do we need to make this happen? We need volunteers. We need to continue to get the best people from member companies serving to have strong committees because the committees are run on an all-volunteer basis. They’re not staff run.  The committee volunteers are the backbone to the Association.”

FBA committees contribute and advance the industry through activities such as white papers, new initiatives, and creating new areas of focus. “To continue to have strong committees, we need strong leaders in those committees,” said Jones. “There’s a lot of vision and ideas. Having volunteers step up is, I think, a challenge for us as we continue to grow. We want to make sure that we’re getting people plugged in to the right committees to help make a difference for our industry and the Association.”

Potential areas for new FBA efforts could include quantum networks, AI, telehealth, and a focus on customer experience which would cover all customer touchpoints from service announcements to construction of the infrastructure to the customer installation.  “I believe that a great customer experience is the best differentiator for all our network operators and their partners.  If we want to make a difference and serve well, we have to look at the whole customer experience.” 

Developing and involving new leaders is also on JJ’s punch list as he moves from Board Chair to joining the FBA’s Senior Committee. “It’s going to take initiative and mentorship from our current leadership on the board and our premier members,” he said. “As a board, we have talked through ways we can bring on future leaders. I think the brunt of it falls on member companies pointing out young talent and getting them involved. The best way to do that out of the gate is through committees and working groups. Through that work, you’ll see them rise to the top and become great candidates for the board. That’s an organic way of doing it.”

CAPTION – “FBA Chairman Joseph Jones on the floor of Fiber Connect 2023 with Mike Hill, Senior
Consultant, On Trac. Inc. and Jeff Kavadias – FBA Strategic Partner – Association Accountant.” (Source:
Joseph Jones)

Jones sees a bright and busy future ahead for FBA as it continues to expand and grow to serve the needs of all its members for the benefit of the industry and the country. 

“I think at the forefront for FBA is to continue to serve the operators,” said Jones. “What do they need from the Association? How can we best serve them and what they’re trying to accomplish? They’re connecting the end users, connecting families, connecting communities, and through that we connect America and that’s ultimately our goal. When we connect all of America, both urban and rural, we end the digital divide. We’re bringing digital equity to this country, to families and communities who have never had it from Medina, OH to Johnson City, TN to Dalton, GA to Lafayette, LA to Canyon Lake, TX to Fort Collins, CO.  We have to continue to serve those communities moving forward, whether that’s through public policy, technological advances, or through different ways of support like workforce development. It’s about offering FBA’s knowledge, expertise, and support to all those operators and providers.  For such a time as this, we have been placed in the greatest industry, at the greatest time in our history.  One day the history books will call all of you in this industry, heroes.”