In February 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new rules that place broadband network investments and operations of rural telecommunications companies at risk, to the detriment of rural consumers and small businesses.
Rural telecommunications companies serve approximately five million rural consumers throughout the United States. These companies work hand-in-hand with government and private investors to deploy broadband-capable networks throughout their service areas; often, these companies are the only source of broadband in their communities.
However, the job is far from complete. Sufficient, predictable, and sustainable support is necessary not only to deploy broadband to the remaining unserved consumers, but also for ongoing network maintenance and upgrades. This is necessary to provide faster connection speeds that can accommodate an ever-growing array of bandwidth-intensive applications and services. It is also needed to maintain reasonable end-user rates for broadband, which enables consumers to afford broadband.
Federal rules provide rural telecom companies and cooperatives with the Universal Service Fund (USF), which reimburses these companies a portion of the costs that they incur to provide service in high-cost rural areas. Mandatory contributions to the USF are made by all companies that provide certain interstate communications service. Rural telecom companies and cooperatives rely on the USF to build and maintain broadband-capable networks throughout the country.
The FCC now wants to extend the success of rural telecom companies and cooperatives to areas served by other telephone companies. While this goal could be accomplished in ways that continue to ensure broadband for all Americans, the FCC’s February 2011 proposals would instead reduce support for small rural companies, and redistribute those resources. This approach may reach unserved customers of other companies, but would make existing network investments of small rural telecoms and cooperatives unsustainable: many rural telecom companies and cooperatives would either need to charge unaffordable rates in order to cover costs, or cut spending on broadband deployment and network maintenance. Since broadband networks support tele-healthcare, tele-education, public safety, and economic activity, the negative impacts would be felt widely throughout communities served by rural telecom companies and cooperatives.
In response to this threat, hundreds of rural providers and the associations that serve them have banded together in an unprecedented show of unity. After many months of work, the rural associations produced a plan that meets the FCC’s key reform objectives without putting at risk the substantial investments already made by carriers and without short-changing the ability of carriers to make reasonable investments to serve customers in the future. The FCC is now reviewing that plan and it is now more important than ever that consumers and businesses who depend on rural broadband let decision makers know how important it is that this plan be adopted over the FCC’s proposals from the February notice.
We need rural customers to reach out to their members of Congress and encourage them to tell the FCC to set aside and reject the February 2011 FCC proposals and instead adopt the rural associations’ plan, which is part of a larger “consensus framework” submitted by a broad group of providers. The future of access for millions of rural consumers hangs in the balance.Tags: Auto, Draft