I’m wrapping up my second visit to Maine in a month and am hoping for honorary citizenship soon! My first trip was a month ago along with Senator Angus King and FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel to celebrate UniTel’s Smart Rural Community designation and to all host a community-wide broadband discussion in Unity, Maine. My trip this week was to join the broadband providers in Maine and their statewide association, TAM, celebrate their 50 year anniversary as an organization focused on supporting independent providers in Maine, communications entrepreneurs, as they transitioned from being telephone companies to building fiber to the home, building optical Ethernet networks, offering data services, IPTV, VoIP and providing top customer care to their customers all the way!
Who doesn’t love a celebration that includes fireworks??
I was able to use the opportunity to share with all of the providers in Maine, as well as those from Senator King’s office, the governor’s office and other interested parties the challenges and opportunities in the rural broadband world. The challenges include the continued need for additional USF support – with both those taking ACAM as well as those staying on rate of return support – neither camp seeing the support anticipated or needed to meet the commitment to provide broadband to rural consumers due to the budget control mechanism implemented by the FCC last year. NTCA has recently surveyed our membership on the impact of these budget controls and found that two-thirds of our broadband providers will be cutting back on their broadband investments for the year ahead due directly to these cuts. The average decrease in spending comes to about $942,000 a year and means that well over $300 million a year that had been anticipated to be invested in rural broadband, now will not be. It somehow seems hypocritical public policy given all of the fuss surrounding broadband deployment and the digital divide nationwide.
The meeting kicked off with a terrific video that the association had produced which shared the passion and sense of community between those engaged in TAM. Senator King’s staff shared his strong interest in broadband advancement and industry leaders shared their perspective on some of the many issues facing the industry, including NTCA board member Keith Oliver raising the concerns that abound on maintaining interconnection with the larger carriers without proper enforcement in Open Internet proceedings. I also found it really interesting to hear from the economist from the state of Maine who shared some critical statistics for the state in terms of their demographic, growth and the telecom sector specifically. Did you know that Maine with a median age of 44.6 years old is actually the oldest in our entire country? No wonder folks are really pondering how to use broadband to ensuring Aging in Place initiatives, telemedicine and other services that will apply to older Americans.
I was sad to scoot before hearing from former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell tomorrow but I enjoyed seeing a number of good friends- Larry Sterrs and Laurie Osgood from Unitel, Shirley Manning- key leader in the industry for many years from Lincolnville and Tidewater Telecom, Rob Souza and his team from OTT Communications as well as a fixture at Maine meetings, Andy Brown with Inteliquent, and Maine alumni!
The drive to Rockland, Maine was a few hours long but simply rural and beautiful the entire way. Is it concerning that I actually knew where the DQ along the rural highway was located from a previous trip?