The FCC released today the long awaited Report and Order, Third Order on Reconsideration and FNPRM on Universal Service and that certainly calls for multiple exclamation points! We are still reviewing the details of the order and related items released by the FCC today, but as a threshold matter, we welcome several aspects of today’s action and are grateful for the release and looking forward to moving forward.
First, NTCA has actively engaged in the effort to secure greater, bright-line clarity in determining what is and is not recoverable through universal service. NTCA has seen this as important to promote effective and efficient use of limited resources for the benefit of both consumers and stakeholders in that system. While we’re still working through the specifics of the FCC’s revisions, we welcome generally efforts to provide clearer guidance on such issues going forward. That clarity will be helpful to the rural broadband providers, members of NTCA, who are committed to the deployment of infrastructure in their high-cost communities.
More importantly, however, today’s action by the FCC to address immediate USF budget crises represents a much-needed ‘shot in the arm’ for rural broadband and charts a course toward realizing the goal of promoting and sustaining effective broadband deployment in rural America. NTCA and its small hometown broadband providers appreciate the FCC for responding to long-standing concerns—and the concerns raised by congressional leaders and consumers as well—over the past several years regarding the shortcomings of and the shortfalls in the universal service mechanisms. Budgets may be a ‘fact of life’ in today’s universal service programs, but those budgets must be sufficient and predictable to comply with law. As the decision today recognizes in providing additional resources, the current levels of high-cost USF support are not sufficient. That much has been evident as policymakers have spent the past several months pondering at depths never pondered before what it will take to truly bring broadband services to all Americans.
Finally, the notice included with today’s order also rightly recognizes that there is much more to do and to discuss to ensure that sufficient and effective universal service support will be available as required by law to achieve and sustain our nation’s connectivity goals. That next step is important and NTCA continues to be committed to ensuring that there is sufficient support for ALL programs–Rate of Return and A-CAM–going forward. It is important for this industry to carve a path together on this…all boats rise and more Americans have access to broadband.
Concerns with respect to the insufficiency of USF support have long been NTCA’s top public policy priority, and those concerns were further amplified by analysis investments that rural carriers were not able to make in their networks due to the continued budget hits that have taken place over the past 18 months. I look forward to this Order providing enough certainty in the short run for carriers to move forward with some additional investment plans.
A huge thanks to Chairman Pai for moving this Order and next steps forward. His efforts to hit the “countryside” and listen to rural broadband providers and folks in the communities they serve certainly went a long way to garner his support and recognition of the need for additional high-cost resources and for that, I am extremely grateful. I would be remiss to also not give a “shout out” to Commissioner O’Rielly, who has rolled up his sleeves from the start of the entire discussion on Universal Service reform. At every turn, Commissioner O’Rielly has been seeking balanced solutions with an eye towards ensuring more Americans have broadband access and has always been willing to listen when I have asked for his time and attention on this critical issue. Last and certainly never least, Chairman Thune from the great state of South Dakota has been a true champion for ensuring that the USF high-cost budget was predictable and sufficient and made a point at every congressional hearing to raise the right questions and seek the most effective ways to ensure a robust broadband future for all Americans.