Rural Telcos Ask FCC to Help Close Digital Divide


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A group of 21 rural telecom providers urged the FCC to help close the digital divide by adopting light-touch regulations that provide companies confidence to invest in network upgrades and expansions that can help close the digital divide between urban and rural households.  

“As executives of broadband companies serving rural and small-town America, we are writing to express our shared concern about the economic divide in our country evident in the slower growth and progress in many of the economically distressed communities we serve,” the companies wrote in the letter, adding that they are equally “concerned by the technology divide separating the digital ‘haves’ in our nation from the ‘have-nots,’ especially in our country’s rural areas.”

Returning broadband service to the light-touch framework under Title I that provided the foundation for the growth and success of the broadband enabled internet is essential to this effort, the companies wrote. “Broadband has traditionally been considered an interstate service, which is why it is important that states and localities not impose common carrier-like regulations on broadband providers.”  

The companies — include telcos like Pioneer Telephone Cooperative in Kingfisher, OK; Blackfoot Telecommunications Group in Missoula, MT and Rice Belt Telephone Company in Weiner, AR. They write as Chairman Ajit Pai is reportedly ready to place an item reversing a 2015 decision to reclassify broadband as a utility on the agenda for the agency’s December 14 open meeting.

Since the 2015 decision, broadband investment has been headed in the wrong direction, according to the telcos. In 2016, capital expenditure for broadband providers was $76 billion, down from $77.9 billion in 2015, and $78.4 billion in 2014. That’s $2.4 billion lower in 2016, than in 2014, the year before the FCC adopted Title II utility-style regulations.

November 21, 2017               

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