I love it when a month is “designated” by a federal agency and it just happens to describe the mission of NTCA. The stars are aligned?
Since August is the FCC’s Rural Broadband month, we’ve taken to having our own, month long celebration here at NTCA. Now that we are in week two (thankfully, August has 5 weeks, that allows us to extend the fun!), it’s time to transition from recognition that Broadband is the 21st Century Infrastructure challenge (which was verified with some discussions we had earlier this week with national agriculture groups who are also finding that rural broadband access is at the top of their infrastructure needs) to Universal Service as a business case for rural investment. USF recognizes that the costs of providing communications services to all parts of our country vary greatly, but our nation as a whole benefits from a truly national network – one that connects as many Americans as possible. In simple terms, universal service can be described as a system that benefits everyone because everyone else has access to a telecommunications network. More great background on the program to follow as the Foundation for Rural Service completes its updated glossary of terms and USF primer and gets that distributed to all who really want to take a crack at understanding the “code” that is communications speak.
The challenges for the USF have been many in recent years with an ongoing struggle to educate policymakers on the program itself as well as the critical infrastructure that has been built with the support of the program for high cost areas that simply cannot justify the costs of deployment in areas where the population base is so small. We’re seeing some of those struggles come home to roost for those rural carriers that have chosen to stay on the legacy system of support as they took a 12% plus hit this July in their ability to recover costs already incurred in their continued buildout of rural broadband. All at the same time that EVERYONE seems to want to talk about rural broadband these days and at the same time that FCC Chairman Pai is spending a great deal of his valuable time touring rural America and learning first hand what these unique challenges are and how RLECs are balancing their commitments to broadband deployment against budget cuts and limited resources. Particularly with hopes of any infrastructure initiatives in 2017 quickly fading, it’s going to take some creative thinking and commitments to ensure the resources needed to get the job done will be available.
I’m looking forward to spending some time in Maine next week, on the heels of NTCA’s regional meeting in South Dakota, celebrating Unitel along with Senator King on their Smart Rural Community designation. Given Senator King’s leadership role as a founder of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I think it will be the perfect Rural Broadband Month field trip!