Congress Takes a Strong Stand on Rural Broadband

Congress Takes a Strong Stand on Rural Broadband

NTCA commends last night’s action by Congress to include $600 million in the omnibus for rural broadband deployment through a new pilot program to be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).  The omnibus passage this week is key to keep government funding moving forward but it is also a powerful vehicle to include explicit, bipartisan support for additional funding needed to really ensure that broadband in high cost parts of this nation can be deployed.

Small telcos, NTCA membership,  have a proven track record in overcoming challenges in rural areas to provide robust, sustainable broadband, and their many efforts in conjunction with long-standing, highly-effective U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) backing are the embodiment of precisely the kinds of public-private partnerships that our nation should be leveraging to tackle such challenges in the future.

We are excited by the promise of the resources provided within the omnibus and the prospect of continuing our members’ work with RUS. We are grateful to Congress for its attention to rural broadband concerns, and consistent with the directives of Congress, we hope that this new effort will build upon, and be coordinated with, existing broadband-focused initiatives within RUS and at the Federal Communications Commission to realize the shared goal of robust, affordable and sustainable universal broadband.  We also look forward to further conversations with Congress, the agencies and other policymakers about additional steps and resources needed to deliver on this vision.

The measure still has some pieces to work through for sure after final passage but I am particularly pleased to see the prudent take that Congress had on the additional funding with their requirement that 90 percent of the project area must lack 10/1 broadband speeds; that the funding cannot be used to overbuild existing RUS projects; that it seeks coordination with other federal agencies operating rural broadband programs and, again (because it cannot be said enough!) stresses the importance of not overbuilding or competing with existing networks.

NTCA has consistently advocated for additional resources needed to make the business case for sustainable investments in rural broadband along with coordination between federal broadband programs and the use of accurate data to measure where federal resources are needed.

Can’t wait to take the next steps necessary to help these measure be put into action.

Additionally, Congress also included in the omnibus package the Ray Baum Act – historic bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the FCC for the first time in 28 years!  I know I have said it before, but it is only fitting that this legislation be named for Ray Baum – a key Hill staffer who recently lost his battle with cancer – and whose legacy certain should include good governance aimed at addressing efficiency and transparency within the FCC.

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