Rural Telcos Seek More Money and Time to Extend Broadband Coverage

Rural telecommunications executives called for more support to extend broadband outside of urban areas, to members of the Senate Commerce Committee last Thursday.

Telecom cooperative Golden West GM/CEO Denny Law, said his company had to delay or cancel some projects to expand broadband coverage in rural areas, due to FCC budget cuts affecting the Universal Service Fund high-cost program. The combined impact of the losses for 2018 and 2019 will amount to more than $4.2 million, he told lawmakers. “We will continue to invest at some level, however it will be challenging,” he said.

Mona Thompson, general manager at the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority, said her company lost about $935,000 in funding meant to expand broadband access on tribal lands in 2018. Mescalero Apache Telecom GM Godfrey Enjady, said his company lost a similar amount of money and borrowed funds from the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service program “to stay alive.” 

The executives also questioned the accuracy of FCC broadband maps, intended to show what areas still lack coverage. NTIA is working with the FCC to improve the maps, including working with lawmakers to get their input and moving forward with the Mobility Fund subsidy auction. The Commission has extended the deadline to challenge the data to November 28.

U.S. Cellular VP of Federal Affairs and Public Policy Grant Spellmeyer, called the maps “just terrible” in some areas. His 20 drive teams are busy recording coverage, but will run out of time, he said. The maps are key to determining eligibility for what areas and what carriers can apply for broadband subsidies. “If the maps are bad today, it’s going to be 2029 before we can get additional government funding to go back and fix all those places,” cautioned Spellmeyer. “By then, 5G will be running in urban areas.”

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October 8, 2018     

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