Yesterday morning, just as our team was in the airport getting ready to return from RTIME back to our office, the FCC released what has got to be the “hottest” read in town this week—the nearly 400-page Open Internet order. Thankfully, the email was received prior to us boarding our flights, but it was clear that our staff (and I) was busy downloading the document to provide airplane reading for the long trip home. A good spy novel might have been preferable, but the timing was ideal. I am sure that there are thousands of telecom types here in our nation’s capital who also have their noses deeply buried in this released order, as well as numerous folks across the country who are willing to dig below the headlines to understand what will likely be the biggest policy decision on the communications front in many years.
While I am still only on page 138 (it isn’t the fastest read, unless you’re Mike Romano), I have to admit that I find the footnotes to be the most interesting part. But with the FCC’s recent vote to impose strong, specific rules related to net neutrality, we are already seeing opposing claims that these rules are either “the problem rather than the solution” or just the steps needed to police conduct that might undermine an Open Internet in the future. Those battles are likely to wage on for months and likely years to come.
The question for NTCA members is whether there is anything in this order that might be of special interest to rural broadband consumers. In the near term, the order appears to treat all consumers—rural and urban—largely the same in terms of the policies being adopted. But some of the reasoning used by the FCC to reach its decision could affect future debates that are important to rural consumers. Specifically, small rural ISPs often depend upon interconnection with larger providers to take data “to and from the Internet,” and many small rural ISPs also rely upon universal service support to deploy and operate the broadband-capable networks that make Internet access possible in rural areas. While the FCC’s order may not directly address these issues, the order may provide some foundation for future action on these issues in a way that could promote the affordability and sustainability of rural broadband.