Powell Says Industry is “All In” on Broadband Buildout

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There are signs for optimism as ISPs, telcos, wireless companies all join the effort to build out broadband across the U.S. to provide internet in unserved areas, Michael Powell, president and CEO of the NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, told Leigh Ann Caldwell, anchor of “America’s Infrastructure Investment,” which was live streamed by the Washington Post yesterday. 

“We’re all in, meaning everybody wants to participate,” Powell, a former FCC Commissioner, said. “Everybody’s going to make an application for funds to try to build in these communities. Almost every one of our companies have announced rural expansion plans. All of our companies have affordability programs for low income communities, which will be combined with the government’s affordability efforts.”

Broadband Maps Key to Buildout Success

Powell also expressed confidence in the FCC’s efforts to update its current broadband maps with more detailed and precise information on the availability of fixed and mobile broadband services. Maps provided by the Broadband Data Collection program, which are due to be completed in 2023, will be the basis for how funds will be distributed to build out broadband, including the $42.5 billion NTIA Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program and the second round of funding in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program.

“We’re working cooperatively with the FCC on that map, which will be evergreen — meaning it’ll be continuously iterative and needing to be improved,” Powell said. “I do not envy the tasks they have before them, but we’re being as effective as we can, helping them get the data they need, and helping find the errors in the mapping that will be essential to a proper distribution.”

Powell Urges Patience, Perseverance

Although it’s hard to say exactly, building out broadband across the U.S. may take up to a decade, according to Powell, who urged patience and perseverance as the rollout occurs.

“This is a very complex undertaking in pretty remote areas,” he said. “If we start wringing our hands after two or three years and think that it’s failed, we can lose our nerve and our will to continue on that course and get the job done. I think it’s just going to take a long, stable, steady slog.”

Building out broadband across the U.S. will require execution between both the private and the public sectors, which will require collaboration between the federal government and each state and local government, as well as the private companies on the ground building out the infrastructure, Powell said. 

“There’s going to need to be a permanently iterative conversation … with the federal government, as the overall overseer, to make sure it is well aware of where problems are cropping up so it can enforce the guardrails that Congress insisted on, to be good stewards of the money,” Powell said. 

By J. Sharpe Smith, Inside Towers Technology Editor

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