Telecom Associations Laud FCC Order to Create New Rural Broadband Subsidies

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Telecom associations, especially those representing rural areas, praised the FCC’s vote to advance the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) said the association, “commends the FCC for its leadership in promoting broadband to unserved Americans.” The fund, “will help connect millions of people in rural areas as well as small businesses to high-speed broadband,” said Executive Director Todd Schlekeway. 

Schlekeway noted that last week, NATE Chairman Jimmy Miller testified before the Senate Commerce Committee concerning workforce development and broadband expansion. “His testimony also stressed that closing the digital divide is a top priority for NATE,” Schlekeway added.

NATE representatives have featured these issues in meetings on Capitol Hill, and also participated in a major industry event at the White House last year on broadband. “Broadband expansion and closing the digital divide is good for us, for our nation’s economy, competitiveness and homeland security, and for our vital communications capabilities,” he noted.  

“For too long, NTCA members have heard the calls from consumers in neighboring rural areas desperate for broadband, and they have tried to respond wherever they can while also continuing to invest and deliver high-quality services in their own deeply rural communities,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. The vote to establish the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund “offers great promise in helping to answer those kinds of calls and deliver the best possible voice and broadband services in unserved areas. NTCA members are eager to participate in this effort.”

She cautioned, however: “At the same time, even in the course of conducting auctions to distribute funds in unserved areas, it is important not to lose sight of those areas that are well-served today only by the grace of universal service support. These are market failure areas, where reasonably comparable consumer rates will not cover the costs of repaying loans taken out to build networks and the costs of maintaining networks once built. NTCA therefore welcomes a renewed conversation now not only on how we get broadband where it is not, but also how we keep broadband where it already is – sustaining high-quality voice and broadband services at affordable rates for the long-term benefit of rural consumers and communities.”

USTelecom President/CEO Jonathan Spalter called the fund “smart public policy” and a down payment on the providers “digging trenches, pulling fiber and connecting Americans to the world’s most modern, high-speed communications network.”

Wireless Internet Service Providers Association President/CEO Claude Aiken said, “Though we have not yet seen the Order, it appears from prior reports and statements made in [the] open meeting that the Commission has worked to make the auction process fair and inclusive for all players.” He cited the changes to the Letters of Credit in particular (see lede story). “While it is prudent and right for government fiduciaries to closely shepherd the use of taxpayer funds, it is much more likely that Rural Digital Opportunity Fund recipients will default if it is too hard or expensive to obtain a Letter of Credit (LoC). Reduction of LoC obligations allows more money to go to broadband deployment instead of bankers. This benefits rural communities if small innovators already in the marketplace want to bid, and thereafter, assuming they have won funding, remain more viable during buildout of their new networks.”   

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