Today started off with Mike Romano and I heading over to the FCC to watch the commission’s open meeting in person as they undertook some key steps on Universal Service to shore up the stability and sufficiency of this program that’s so key to ensuring rural Americans have comparable access to broadband services. It was really gratifying being there in person to watch this bipartisan, unanimous vote in favor of setting the course for the future.
Today’s action by the FCC represents a watershed moment in our nation’s long-running effort to promote and sustain universal service in a broadband world. More than seven years after the FCC’s ‘Transformation Order’ first aimed to reorient federal Universal Service Fund (USF) mechanisms toward broadband, and in the wake of a 2016 FCC order that took significant steps toward this goal, today’s landmark order finally delivers on much of the promise of these prior reform efforts. This will hopefully put the high-cost USF program on a path for greater success and stability for years to come.
In the face of significant regulatory uncertainty and upheaval over the past decade, NTCA’s small rural providers have nonetheless led the charge in deploying future-proof broadband infrastructure and delivering robust and reliable communications services in the most rural parts of our nation. Notwithstanding deepening and unpredictable cuts in USF support, a series of stringent new caps and constraints on operations and the ever-distracting prospects of additional reforms, NTCA members have kept their noses to the grindstones as best they could in the interest of delivering the best possible broadband to the rural communities in which they live and serve. NTCA hopes that today’s order will allow these community-based rural providers to get back to focusing more fully on the business of investing in infrastructure and delivering quality services in rural America.
NTCA is deeply grateful to Chairman Ajit Pai for his firm commitment to promoting rural broadband and overcoming the digital divide by producing this order, and we are sincerely appreciative of the leadership and engagement of Commissioners Carr, O’Rielly, and Rosenworcel over many months and years in advancing the universal service debate and ultimately supporting this order. NTCA also cannot thank enough the congressional leaders who, in a truly remarkable demonstration of bipartisan consensus, called time and again for the FCC to take the kinds of steps taken in today’s order. For many years, hundreds of members of Congress including Sens. John Thune, Amy Klobuchar, Deborah Fischer, John Tester, Roger Wicker, Maria Cantwell, Jerry Moran, and Angus King, as well as Reps. Kevin Cramer, Collin Peterson, Bob Latta, Dave Loebsack, Adam Kinzinger, and Peter Welch have written to the FCC seeking the restoration of regulatory certainty and sufficiency within these USF mechanisms and the development of common-sense policies that will better sustain universal service in a broadband world. The reforms adopted today would not have come to pass without the support, guidance, and encouragement of this broad coalition of policymakers.
With this order providing a much-needed foundation, NTCA looks forward to its members building upon their already outstanding work to deploy cutting-edge networks and delivering on the promise of even better communications services for years to come.
Our series of “building blocks” strategies starting right back up tomorrow with our team as we continue to look toward the next series of challenges on the horizon.
However, today’s vote would not have had the outcome it did without the countless hours of advocacy efforts by NTCA members on committee calls, crunching data, telling their stories, coming to Capitol Hill, trooping to the FCC and doing it year after year until we could get to this order and to this vote. Our team, led by the amazing Mike Romano, with Leif Oveson—his right-hand person on Hill activity—lived and breathed USF (and likely dreamed about it to…) did a yeoman’s job of partnering with NTCA members to get to today.
Maybe I should give them the afternoon off?