Should Carriers be Mandated to Deploy Rural Broadband?

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How can carriers make the business case for rural broadband deployment? Will it take a government mandate to make that happen? That’s what one panelist suggested Wednesday at Wireless Connect 2018. The Wireless Infrastructure Association is a sponsor of the event in partnership with the Master’s in Telecommunications Program at the University of Maryland.

Inside Towers posed the question to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who appeared with WIA President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein in a Q & A.

Carr said one way to incentivize carriers is through the FCC’s Universal Service Program, which provides subsidies to those who deploy communications in rural areas. “Infrastructure reform is a key piece of it,” he said, referring to the Commission’s recent decision to allow small cells to bypass environmental and Tribal review in select cases. Carriers spent $30 million combined in such reviews last year when siting infrastructure, according to the agency. “What if we can take 30 percent of deployment costs and cut it. It flips the business case,” he said, noting that the change will mean broadband can be deployed to “thousands more communities.”  

“I agree there’s difficult economic cases,” said Carr. There are other incentives the agency will continue to use, such as USF money to get the job done.”

Adelstein told Inside Towers in an interview afterwards, that mandates don’t work. “Instead of a stick let’s use a carrot. Congress just authorized $600 million of support for the Rural Utilities Service to come up with an innovative program to help offset the cost of providing broadband in areas that are unserved. This is what we need, because if the market fails, you can’t just tell people ‘You gotta go there anyway.’ You’ve got to give them something to fill that gap to make the business case work.”

WIA has found subsidies in rural areas are often needed, he said, noting that the USF and RUS loan and grant programs work in concert to “maximize” the benefit.

by Leslie Stimson, Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Towers

April 5, 2018                           

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